Haunted by childhood memories and inspired by folk tales narrated by his grandmother, artist Ganesh Pyne’s collection of paintings were born, reflective of the inner workings of his imagination with emphasis on death and violence.
As a young boy, he experienced too much too early in life that moulded his world view. Born in West Bengal during the Great Calcutta Killings of 1946, he came across destruction and feelings of hopelessness when his family was forced out of their crumbling ancestral mansion. Walking the narrow streets of the city, he stumbled across a pile of dead bodies, on top of which lay the corpse of a woman with heavy wounds on her breast. This image was etched in his subconscious mind forever and throughout his life, the artist was caught in a vicious cycle of darkness with no escape.
Published by Lalit Kala Akademi and Akar Prakar, Kolkata, “A painter of eloquent silence: Ganesh Pyne” contains almost 100 reproductions of Pyne’s work with an introduction analysing the techniques, content and the vision. `
An art critic for the past 60 years, author Pranabranjan Ray was the first writer to introduce Pyne to the public in the 1960s. He had written several articles extensively in English and Bengali about the artist’s significant contribution to the modern Indian art scene. “I believe he was an Indian in outlook but very modern in expression who closely followed the modern art movement spread across the world.”
Ray has also studied works of artists like Rabindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Jamini Roy, Ramkinkar Baij, Somnath Hore, Bikash Bhattacharjee et al.
He had been close to Pyne for over four decades. The two were great friends with a deep regard for each other. “I think he was one of my subjects of which I am very proud. He was one painter who makes you look at his work over and over again to reveal something new. I discover new meanings every time I glance at his artworks.”
In one of his paintings, The Conversation (1977), one can see a woodcutter felled by his own axe with a bird fluttering atop his skeletal body signifying death as a punishment for desecration of vegetal life.
Pyne was known as a painter of eloquent silence because in all his paintings, you can find a lonely traveller travelling through the night who is fond of listening to the whispers he can make out throughout his journey. In a way, he has no one he can speak to.
He began his work with pen and ink and went on to find his niche in tempera. Motifs like skulls, piercing arrows, skeletons and axes are present in several paintings with amber browns and blues as the primary colours. “Darkness was the predominant factor in his oeuvres. All through his life, he played on the tension between darkness and light.”
Such an engrossing play with light and darkness has not been seen in the history of painting except in the period between the Renaissance and Impressionism, feels Ray.
Initially, his work was made up of stories he had heard as a kid. Later on in life, he became an avid theatre goer which created a huge influence on his art. The paintings soon became his interpretation of stage productions and film shots. He had acquaintances who were poets, litterateurs, film buffs and common middle class individuals with serious cultural and political interests.
Using imagination creatively
The shy and curious artist would always listen to his vivid imagination and reasoning. “Though, he would give priority to his own imagination and thinking, the artwork would be based on something gravely important troubling his mind. He would seek from what he heard and saw as allegories of something much more deeper like death.”
He might not be the most trendiest artist but the world would always remember him. Even today, his paintings fetch very high prices at auctions across the world.