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Ganesh Pyne - brush with mythology

- Prakash Bal Joshi


Ganesh Pyne was one of the masters of Indian modern art whose work depict darkness filled at the time of paradigm change taking place in Indian subcontinent. Death, one of the dominating concerns of his work finally took him away from this mortal world but his images will haunt for longer time.


His work was based on his own personal experiences including his brush with death during violent communal riots in 1946 to dominating images around him during his impressionable childhood. His works were no doubt influenced by images created by Rabindranath Tagore. He blended his work with modern trend in Europe and accepted Paul Klee's influence on his mystic and sometimes mythological figures recurring from time to time in his stream of work. Pyne quit his job to join the Society of Contemporary Artists, set up by painters and sculptors of Kolkata, to support each other. It was difficult decision to survive without a job and continue passion with art but he fought with equal equanimity.


As he progressed as an artist, he became identified with his tempera work. His encounter with communal riots during pre-independence days and his own brush with death during turbulent days became main source of his imagery. Skeletal creatures, darkened faces, overall darkness in the ambience, skeletal denizens, kept on recurring in his works, kept on evolving over the years. He also tried his hand for some time in water colours but he left his stamp in tempera. Primary colours are almost absent from his work depicting tragic part of human history - brown and blues dominate overlapping each other, skeletal bodies emit kind of mystic fire full of pain and anger.


Pyne, born in 1937, spent most of his life in Kolkata and became part of its vibrant culture as he devoted full time to his passion of art and remained part of intellectual and political life of West Bengal. He was part of cultural life in Kolkata enriched by stalwarts like Satyajit Ray, Sunil Gangopadhyay and others during 1960s and 1970s. He was kind of a rebel who explored new terrain, break away and treaded unknown path away from Bengal school yet remained firmly saddled in his cultural grass roots.


Pyne remained engrossed in his own imagery, drew from mythology which he heard from his grandmother and later read from available popular books and developed his own distinct style and storytelling episodes. He was obsessed with mythology, revisited personalities and major events from history and dwelt on dominating characters from literature and epics he heard as a child. His last major show was held in Kolkata based on stories from Mahabharata. Even while depicting Mahabharata on canvas, in his own way of looking at life, he selected marginalized and somewhat forgotten peripheral characters from the epic including Eklavya, Yujuthshu, Amba and others. Though he himself remained calm over the years and kept to himself, his imagery was quite unsettling and asking questions to viewers instead of providing easy answers.


Fear, Lust, struggle for survival, historical upheavals could be felt by viewers through eyes of the characters. Like his characters, he also had kind of passion for remaining unnoticed, kind of reclusiveness away from gaze of media and even his friends and keep on going ahead in his search of new images.


Pyne wrote : "There is no happiness in the Mahabharata." His work also reverberated such epic sense of human tragedies. No wonder, M. F. Hussein had termed him as the best Indian painter.