A soft-spoken man who let his works do the talking. That is how artist Ganesh Pyne, who passed away in Kolkata on Tuesday following a heart attack will be remembered. He leaves behind a trail of memories and indelible works that stand out as milestones in Indian modern art. He left an imprint on his peers and left the younger generation overawed.
Among the youngsters was noted artist Sanjay Bhattacharya. In 1978, when Sanjay was in his second year at Kolkata’s Government College of Art & Craft, he saw a study by artist Ganesh Pyne and remembers being mesmerised by it for days. He remembers it vividly. “In a blue colour wash work, he had shown a woman reading in the light of a table lamp. I was stunned by that work. It was a marvellous study. Those days the trend was that as you passed out [of college], you would leave behind a few works of yours for the students of subsequent batches. This was one of the works, Ganesh Pyne had left behind.”
His peers, gallerists and critics remember him as an extremely humble and shy person who excelled as an artist. “He was one of the most polite artists I have ever met. Very unassuming with no airs about himself but technically he was so sound. I have not seen anybody else make a ‘line’ the way he did,” adds Sanjay.
Eminent art critic and art writer Ella Datta concurs: “His drawings were so phenomenal. His lines were strong and sharp. He created angular figures with a lot of shadows through crosshatching.”
Datta says that the artist figures in a lot of significant collections in Delhi and Mumbai and abroad, notably in the Herwitz Collection owned by the American couple Chester and Davida Herwitz, who have built a major collection of modern Indian art. In the 1960s, she reveals, even the legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin bought his work.
“Although Pyne was inspired by Gaganendranath and Abanindranath Tagore, he started his own visual vocabulary in the early 1960s. There was a change in his figuration from the naturalistic earlier paintings to the somewhat stylised angular form,” she adds.
One of the founding members of the Society of Contemporary Artists, he hardly held solo exhibitions and mostly showcased his work in group shows. Sanjay says that not every artist can sketch but “his preliminary works were so strong and flawless. Not many artists would exhibit their sketches or jottings but he had a number of exhibitions of such work. In those days when there was no concept of market, only two artists would sell — Ganesh Pyne and Bikash Bhattacharya.”
Though he began with water colours, Pyne moved to gouache and tempera, a medium which became his forte.
The melancholy, alienation and pain that underlined his art came from the communal riots of Calcutta that hit the city in 1946. The anguish and suffering of the tragedy that the artist experienced found an outlet on his canvas. “This entire sense of melancholy and pathos that you see seeping through all of his works is coming from the tragedy. It also made him the person he was, reticent and quiet,” says Kishore Singh, head of publication and exhibition at the Delhi Art Gallery (DAG). DAG has a sizeable Ganesh Pyne collection.
“I was very frustrated when I came out of art college. There was no market and I remember meeting Ganesh Pyne at an exhibition and he said, ‘The world will not allow you to paint but an artist has to paint.’ In fact, after he told me that, I went back to my art with full faith and came out with a show,” recalls Sanjay.
As a tribute to the artist, Vadehra Art Gallery is holding an exhibition of his works in New Delhi till March 30. The lines, the colours are not fading away anytime soon.