GANESH PYNE (1937-2013)
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GANESH PYNE (1937-2013)


GANESH PYNE (1937-2013)
Pyne, G.
signed and dated in Bengali (lower left)
tempera on canvas
19 ½ x 21 ¾ in. (49.5 x 55.2 cm.)
Painted in 1968
Sotheby’s New York, 21 September 2001, lot 211
Private Collection, United States
Acquired from the above, 2010

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Lot Essay

Nature is so beautiful, it makes you feel sad. It also makes you feel elevated simultaneously. This is not a contradiction. It’s like the crest and trough of a wave. The same wave, life and death, birth and rebirth
-Ganesh Pyne

Ganesh Pyne spent his youth in an old mansion in Calcutta, living with his extended family. His clearest memories of his childhood include the time he spent on the verandah of this home listening to the stories his grandmother regularly told there. Apart from these evocative tales, the artist also remembers being captivated by the ceremonies at the Krishna temple across the street and the jatra or folk theater performances that one of his neighbors would host in their home, often using tarer putul or string puppets. These fragments of memories from his youth would ignite Pyne’s imagination later in his life, inspiring him to paint masterful pieces imbued with mysticism and fantasy. Later, profound experiences of loss and death during the Partition of the Indian Subcontinent also influenced Pyne’s visual narratives, frequently populated with skeletal forms, masks, puppets, animals and floating bodies.

Stylistically, Pyne was initially influenced by the work of Abanindranath Tagore and his followers from the Bengal School. However, his artistic language soon evolved, turning away from the gentle decorative watercolors which characterized his early body of work. Pyne began using tempera as his primary medium in the mid-1960s, and his experiments with indigenous powder pigments and various binding agents allowed him to develop a unique way of building up surface and texture on canvas. Known for his meticulous draftsmanship and delicate handling of pigment, the artist only completed around ten paintings a year using this labor intensive process.

Manipulating light and shadow with dexterity in the present lot, an early canvas painted in 1968, Pyne explores unfamiliar, interstitial spaces, simultaneously evoking balance and uncertainty, beauty and violence. The subject of the present lot is a flower in bloom, after which the work is titled. Its striking blue petals, which immediately draw the viewer’s attention, curve outward at the rim, revealing a pristine white interior. It is only on closer examination that viewers notice the ethereal, cave-like environment in which the flower is blooming. Pyne encages the stem of the blossom in a skeletal structure. It’s delicate translucent leaves, like lungs, are protected within this ribcage, and the blossom starts to resemble an enlightened head resting on invisible shoulders. Adding to this illusion are the golden ornaments Pyne paints below and around the crown of the flower, almost like a necklace and tiara.

Emerging from the fresco-like layers that Pyne has carefully rendered in the background, additional details endow this painting with deeper, spiritual implications. Above the flower, the body of a snake seems to wind in and out of the shadows the artist masterfully conjures out of paint, connecting the flower to an inverted blueish triangle at the upper left. It is possible that the flower represents the head of Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, with the triangle symbolizing his trident. The snake, then, would be Vasuki, the king of serpents who sat coiled around Shiva’s neck. Using this lyrical metaphor, Pyne highlights the intertwined nature of life and death, creation and destruction. Inanimate ribs are filled with the lifeforce of the flowering plant, and in its luminous beauty, Pyne reveals the god of destruction. Creation and destruction thus exist simultaneously, poetically described as the crest and trough of the same wave by the artist, and that which emerges from the earth in life returns to it in death.

Although Pyne’s paintings like the present lot have “been shown to possess mythic content and meaning, in no sense can it be called pure narrative […Here] fragments of a story [are] held together precariously by fine threads, interwoven between isolated elements by the use of an opaque light which envelops them. There is sensed also, in so many of these paintings, the lurking presence of that intruder and friend, death” (G. Sen, ‘Encounter in the Twilight Zone’, Image and Imagination, Five Contemporary Artists in India, Ahmedabad, 1996, p. 145).

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