What if you could peer into the mind of an artist, in the days leading up to his next piece of work? At Apparao Galleries’ ongoing exhibition, ‘Translucent Steps’, hang jottings, sketches and notes from the books of the late Bengali painter Ganesh Pyne.
Known for his tempera style of art, which blended poetic surrealism and rich imagery, of characters inspired by folktales he heard from his grandmother as a child, Pyne was famously reticent. His drawings, contrasting darkness and light, were evocative of a certain loneliness. This shows up in his jottings too.
Curator of the gallery, Sharan Apparao explains, “Ganesh Pyne was an introverted but thoughtful person, who would spend a lot of time on his paintings. His technique was such that he would put layer after layer on a painting until it was ready — he probably made 10 a year. But all the ideas that he had, he would immediately jot them down…” she says, waving her hand at the works lent to her by a private collector.
From multiple aggressive marks of black ink on grid paper, rises the side profile of a woman. It’s a face that recurs in many of his sketches. Above it is a poem, written in the kind of hasty cursive, that doesn’t expect to be read by anyone other than the writer. “I sowed, sowed the seed of love…” goes the poem referencing the duality of Death and Hope.
Art and literature both find space in Pyne’s notes: it’s like going through the back pages of a college student’s notebook — if that student happened to be a Raja Ravi Varma award recipient who left an indelible mark on the Indian Art scene.
In yet other sketches, we see figures taking shape, figures that would go on to become representative of his style: there’s Kali, in all her glory, a bull with sharp horns, a horse, a fly, a vase, a saint, and the figure of Death itself. “I myself had auctioned the painting of the vase,” she says, “All these ideas, once turned to paintings, may have been in different forms, but the mood remains the same.”
Though he found his niche in tempera, the artist’s beginnings were in ink and pen. Sharan recalls visiting his house in Hindustan Park, Kolkata. “He had drawn sketches, jotted down notes everywhere on his studio’s concrete walls! And then there were more in notebooks.
The studio was like a temple for him. It was this sacred and serene space because to him, his jottings were as important as his actual paintings.” The ones hanging at this exhibition are from the late 80s to early 90s.
As intriguing as the sketches are, my eyes are drawn to the scribbles that go along with them. In one, squished in the top right side, is a letter to Rupika Chawla, one of India’s celebrated conservator of paintings, and an authority on Raja Ravi Varma’s works.
Dated March 15, 1991, it starts off by thanking Rupika for her letter, and apologising for something — what we don’t know, because imposed on top of this letter is a doodle of a face, making the contents illegible. Yet other scribblings are in Bengali, and some have been scratched out as an afterthought.
“Even though Ganesh was introverted, he wasn’t shy about his work. He wanted more and more people to see it,” says Sharan. “For most people, these drawings may seem inconsequential, but for those interested in art, these are invaluable.” — The start of something beautiful.
Translucent Steps is on until February 27, at Apparao Galleries, 7, Wallace Gardens 3rd Street, Nungambakkam. 28332226