APE AND THE MASK
APE AND THE MASK
PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN
Tempera and mixed media on canvas
18 1/4 x 21 3/8 in. (46.4 x 54.5 cm.)
Signed and dated in Bengali lower left
Ranjit Hoskote, Ganesh Pyne a Pilgrim in the Dominion of Shadows, Mumbai, 2005, p. 119, illustrated.
'I am the monkey whose role is to amuse. I am the wounded animal who bares his fangs in protest.' (Ganesh Pyne, as quoted in Ella Datta, Ganesh Pyne: His Life and Times, Kolkata, 1998, p. 52)
Alongside poetry, myths and theatrical performances, childhood stories told to him by his grandmother provided important sources of inspiration for the artist Ganesh Pyne. These ideas evolve over numerous paintings, and appear in different forms throughout his career, often re-worked in multiple jottings before re-appearing in a more fully worked painting, in tempera and mixed media. The performing monkey, or the monkey king is one such form that re-occurs in his sketches and paintings in various guises. In a 1989 work of a similar subject, Bir Bahadur, or Master of All Things, Pyne depicts a monkey in the robes of a courtier seated in front of a glowing golden apple, but he has a rope tied to his neck, and a mischievous glint in his eyes. Although the precise symbolism of each work remains enticingly ambiguous, it is clear that the artist identifies himself with the figure of the performing monkey.
'The image of a clown, an entertainer, a performing animal, which surface repeatedly in his paintings, began to appear in the seventies. By his own admission, the image of the entertainer is related to a sense of insecurity that dogs him. He acknowledges that the early years of frustration, unemployment and economic pressures had shattered his self-confidence. He also reflects on the disintegrating character of society, where the measure of man gets smaller every day and is linked to extraneous elements like money and status. Referring to an earlier generation of artists, he had observed, "...as people they lived with self-respect. They did not have to bother about the sale of their works. Today, for a full time painter like me everything depends upon the whims of private collectors. I lead a dangerous life. This is a very depressing thought." Sadly the sense of insecurity became part of his being. He could not shed it even when success came to him in full measure.' (ibid., p. 52)
In the 1960s, Pyne abandoned his Abanindranath Tagore inspired watercolours in favour of tempera. Pyne's technique involved laying down thin glazes of colour over a thin wash of ink. The artist applied many very thin, almost transparent, layers of pigment, until he had achieved the perfect level of colour saturation and the correct range of contrasts. The technique is slow and meticulous, and suited the artist's temperament. This change of preferred medium evolved in parallel to a change of palette, as well as a change in his style of figuration. The new visual language comprises a multitude of ghoulish or magical figures. Motifs such as boats, bones, animals and masks become recurring elements in his artistic vocabulary.
'Look again, at some of the prominently recurrent motifs in Pyne's paintings: the sword-bearer, the horse, the crown, and the mask. These motifs betoken at a pictorial level, the strong connection that Pyne's art bears to jatra, a folk form based on episodes of the Mahabharata, but which proceeds by improvisation and contemporary reference, rather than through the stately repetition of epic material that characterises the classical forms. Pyne is in tune with these folk interpretations, being enthralled by the prismatic many-sidedness of myths. As indices of his concerns with public themes, the artist adapts and re-charges the folk vocabulary to point to the themes of kingship and insecurity, the precariousness of authority, the unforeseeable spinning of fortunes wheels.' (Ranjit Hoskote, Ganesh Pyne a Pilgrim in the Dominion of Shadows, Mumbai, 2005, p.17)
The colours of the original are slightly softer than they appear in the catalogue with the overall colour tones showing slightly less saturation, especially in the reds and browns of the tunic and crown. Good overall condition.
About The Artist:
GANESH PYNE (1937-2013)