Ganesh Pyne: Illuminator of Inner Darkness

A reclusive artist and a restless soul, Ganesh Pyne had a genius for transfiguring inner darkness in his iconic works of art. Pyne, who passed away at the age of 76 recently, will be missed not only by the artistic fraternity, but by all those who hunger for intimations of the sacred and the numinous in this market-driven world.

In many ways, Pyne’s variegated life and career was emblematic of the artist’s conflicted relationship with money. He was one of those rare artists who didn’t really care about selling his art. In an age when artists have become market savvy, he preferred to keep to himself, and not bow to commercial pressures. Till about late 1960s, he was happy to sell his work for all of Rs 20!! Neither was he prolific, choosing to paint when he felt like. Truly, a master of his moods and inner daemons!.

This indifference to the world of buy and sell only enriched his paintings and imparted them a rare inner luminescence. Pyne is today ranked as one of the finest contemporary Indian artists of the Bengal School. His contemporaries call him ahead of his time, one who was very original with his technique and remained in the world he had created of his own, as Manu Parekh, a contemporary artist, said of him.

This was a world where death was one of the recurring themes. The 1946 Kolkata riots had left a lasting impression on him as a 10-year-old and years later those disturbing scenes expressed themselves in the form of dark and brooding images on canvas. Prakash Kejriwal, owner of Kolkata’s Chitrakoot Art Gallery and one of the earliest collectors of Pyne’s works, describes his art as “Something between life and death – the twilight zone.” In a sense, Pyne lived in this zone himself too.   It is interesting to note that at his last major solo show in Kolkata in 2010, he made a series of unforgettable paintings from the Mahabharata, with a special focus on marginal characters like Amba, Eklavya, Dushala. He has been quoted in ‘Mint,’ an Indian daily, as saying, “I was…interested in capturing the essentially tragic spirit of the story.”

Born in 1937 in Kolkata, he grew up in poverty. But that didn’t deter him from pursuing his dream when he enrolled in Government College of Art and later worked as an animator in the 1960s. He, however, started his career with water colours, and later moved to gouache and tempera style of painting. He was greatly influenced by Abanindranath Tagore, one of the greatest artists of Bengal School, Picasso and Rembrandt. At the same time, he borrowed eclectically from films of Walt Disney, Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman.

It was M. F. Husain who called him the best painter of his generation, thus catapulting a hitherto little known 37-year-old artist into limelight. For somebody who never cared to sell his work or cash in on his fame, his canvases are today much sought after, with art lovers ready to pay any price for them. In the end, as Auden said of W.B. Yeats, he became his admirers.


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Radhika B