PROPERTY FROM AN EMINENT INTERNATIONAL COLLECTION
Tempera on canvas
14 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. (36.9 x 31.8 cm.)
Signed and dated in Bengali lower right
In the 1960s, Pyne abandons his Abanindranath Tagore inspired watercolours in favour of tempera. This change of preferred medium evolves 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 figures frequently emaciated or skeletal in form. Motifs such as boats, bones, skulls and masks are recurring elements in his artistic vocabulary.
Early in his career, Ganesh Pyne had read a book by Nandalal Bose that included a chapter on painting in tempera. The medium appealed to him because, at this early stage in his career, the materials required for making these natural pigments, were readily available locally, and were cheap to produce. This financial concern led him to reject the more expensive imported paints and to experiment with his own form of tempera. Initially, Pyne tried various binders including egg, most commonly used by western artists, but he was not satisfied with the results, and so moved on to gum acacia, which he believed gave a 'certain glow' to his pigments.
Pyne's tempera 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 exactly the level of colour saturation and the correct range of contrasts that he required. The technique is slow and meticulous, and suited the artist's temperament. The process creates a glowing luminous paint surface, whilst also creating a very fine texture of cross-hatching that was integral to the composition, and became the hallmark of his work.
'Pyne's early paintings in the late fifties show an artist who had deep admiration for Abanindranath Tagore and Nandalal Bose. The naturalistic figuration, the sensitive palette rendered in washes remind one of the masters Bengal school... From the mid sixties however, Pyne's style underwent a radical transformation. He discarded pure naturalism and evolved a distinctive visual language gradually. He was groping towards this early on in the sixties. He replaced the transparent medium of watercolour with, first ink, then gouache, and later tempera. The palette darkened considerably. The dramatic change so wonderful to observe, made him straddle the chasm between several generations of artists.' (Ella Datta, Ganesh Pyne His Life and Times, Calcutta, 1998, p. 14)
Ganesh Pyne's somewhat morbid infatuation with death is believed to date back to the communal riots of 1946, when as a child, he came across a pile of dead bodies on a cart. Although he clearly suppressed this traumatic experience, almost thirty years later 'death' in various guises begins to haunt his paintings. Beyond this childhood experience, the poetry of Shakti Chattopadhyay left an indelible impression on him. Death seems to haunt Chattopadhyay's poems in the same way as it lurks in the imagery of Pyne. The artist states 'images are the bedrock of my art and Shakti was a magician of imagery.' For both poet and artist 'the beauties of the flesh are but passing. The skeleton is the ultimate truth. But they put their faith in some eternal values. The source of illumination in Pyne's tenebrous world was not mere painterly device. It was a symbol of knowledge and wisdom. It is clear that the poet and painter shared a melancholy temperament, a trait shared by many of Bengal's creative artists. It is also very obvious that the sensibilities of the poet and the painter were shaped by their times ... the Calcutta of the fifties and sixties played a big role in moulding them.' (ibid., p. 38)
Alongside poetry, myths and theatrical performances, childhood stories told to him by his grandmother also provide important sources of inspiration for Pyne. These ideas evolve over numerous paintings and appear, in different forms throughout his career, often reworked in multiple jottings before re-appearing in a more fully worked tempera. The semi-skeletal face is one such form that re-occurs in his paintings in various guises, but it is unclear if the horned figure depicted here is a masked character from a play, or a demonic figure that has evolved from a fable.
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About The Artist:
GANESH PYNE (1937 - 2013)