From the Shadows
02 August – 14 September, 2020
In one thousand years, one Ganesh Pyne is enough for India
M. F. Husain
Pen & Ink on Paper
…light emanating from the depths of darkness.
small-format drawings & paintings
A series of letters and drawings collected by Saibal Ghosh, a close friend and lover of Pyne’s work. Both Pyne and Ghosh were confidants and shared many letters between them, spanning two decades.
I become whole when I paint.
In 1986, in an interview to The Illustrated Weekly of India, M.F. Husain, the famous master, pronounced Ganesh Pyne to be India’s best painter.
Quoting the Polish ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, who is supposed to have said that he felt whole only when he danced, Pyne once wrote in his diary, “I become whole when I paint.”
A quote from one of Pyne’s diaries explains his work in a simple sentence: “light emanating from the depths of darkness”.
“From the Shadows” features Ganesh Pyne’s small-format works, such as a tempera, his favourite medium; drawings; watercolour paintings; and a collection of letters exchanged between the artist and his close friend Saibal Ghosh.
One of India’s finest modernists, Ganesh Pyne (1937 – 2013) is well-known for his small-scale works in tempera on canvas, paper and gouache. Born and brought up in Calcutta, Pyne grew up listening to his grandmother’s folktales and reading fantastic stories from children’s books, which was to create the vocabulary of his future art. His early work was deeply influenced by the Bengal School, especially Abanindranath Tagore, who was a major influence. The 1970s till 1990s were the painter’s important period, as he had moved from a tumultuous period of anger and despair, both personally and politically, that found expression in his art. “From the Shadows” traces Pyne’s practice during this period of over three decades.
The exhibition’s pièce de résistance is a tempera on canvas by the master, “Woman Sowing”, 1970. Pyne is known for his deep engagement with death, but the tempera portrays fertility and growth of life, as opposed to death and decay. We see elements of contradictions, polarities and satire in almost every work by Pyne. This tempera is no different. The sapling that the woman carries, and the standalone form of the banana leaf, while representing fertility and life, both have skeletal forms that foreground a sense of polarity that is characteristic of Pyne’s language.
In the words of Ella Datta, the curatorial adviser for the exhibition, “the work shows a woman, radiating an aura of the sacred, carrying down the stairs a sapling for planting. Against a background of mysterious shadows and decaying structures, she conveys elements of courage and hope.”
The drawings and paintings in the exhibition attest to his mastery over chiaroscuro, involving a dense criss-crossing of lines. Both the figuration and the texturization became his imprimatur, as did his use of shadows and light in the picture space, Ella Datta explains, while adding:
As he matured as an artist, the lyricism in the figuration of the early years yielded place to razor-sharp lines cutting through the blank space with angst and intensity. Gradually, the lines defining the figure became stiff and angular. Pyne began introducing expressionist distortions. He added skeletal elements to the figure to suggest intimations of mortality.
The other set of works in the exhibition is a series of letters and drawings collected by Saibal Ghosh, a close friend and lover of Pyne’s work. Both Pyne and Ghosh were confidants and shared many letters between them, spanning two decades. Here is a collection of those painted postcards and small-format drawings and paintings, which Ghosh had lovingly preserved.
This is a rare collection of works which perhaps haven’t seen the light of day, until now, as part of an exhibition aptly titled “From the Shadows”, by Ella Datta.