What gives Pyne's work distinctiveness is the artist's involvement with his art. His life, his world, indeed his whole being is focused on this act of creation. He is most at home with his own inner world of darkness and light from which emerges the strange forms. The canvases are a reflection of this all-absorbing interior life.
- Ella Datta, 1998
As a child, Ganesh Pyne lived in an old mansion in Calcutta with his extended family. His clearest memories of the time he spent there include the stories his grandmother regularly told the children on the verandah, the captivating Krishna temple across the street, and a neighbor who hosted jatra or folk theater performances in their home. Memories of these experiences ignited Pyne’s imagination, 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, influenced Pyne to create visual narratives populated with skeletal forms, masks, puppets, animals and floating bodies.
“The shadowy niches of his childhood home, the strange, dark fantasy of his grandmother’s stories, the theatricality of jatra, and his traumatic encounter with death and violence came to besiege his memory, which would imbue the mundane with a mystique and gift him a rich and complex interior landscape to contemplate. Introverted, reclusive, reflective, the artist remained achingly tuned to the tremulous childhood core that shaped his sensibility and proved intrinsic to his art.” (R. Datta, ‘Artist of Disquiet and Twilight Mysteries’, The Telegraph, 19 March 2013)
While Pyne’s technique and style were initially influenced by the works of Abanindranath Tagore and the Bengal School, they soon evolved from the gentle, narrative watercolors of the 1950s towards a more modernist vocabulary. Although his later work has also “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)
The death of Pyne’s older brother, Kartik, in 1980 proved a major loss for the artist. Grieving and depressed, he could not bring himself to paint much, and when he did finally get back to regular work, it showed a profound change. Speaking about the present lot, Ella Datta noted, “The tempera transported his personal grief into a timeless image of the struggle between death and immortality.” (E. Datta, Ganesh Pyne His Life and Times, Kolkata, 1998, p. 62)
According to the critic Geeti Sen Relics is an exemplar of a major shift in his oeuvre, demonstrating “a radical transformation of imagery. The composition is honed down to its essential elements: a face profiled to the left shows the eyes closed as though in mourning, in recollection, or in a state of ‘dreamless sleep’. A piece of blue brocade is tossed carelessly into the mosaic, with a pair of white skeletal bones, to become the objects of contemplation. The disjointed assemblage of these disparate elements, each isolated, is both deliberate and disconcerting [...] Yet, pieced together, they tell a story of the passing of time, of sentiment and reverie, of beauty and ecstasy, of musings on death. These are qualities found in Pyne’s earlier work; but now translated into a language of pure form, abstracted from their background. As in his earlier work, light becomes the catalyst which purifies these elements, enveloping them with its protective mantle.” (G. Sen, Ibid., 1996, p. 145)