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Life under the shadow of death

As good as the best, and better

My life in the world of contemporary art changed when Bikash (Bhattacharjee) succumbed to suffering he courageously endured and again when (MF) Husain died suffering a humiliating alienation that embarrassed and disgraced us all. Now, with my friend Ganesh (Pyne) gone, I feel totally abandoned. I am overcome with a loneliness I will never be able to explain.

Ganesh was a loner and his loneliness pervaded everything he ever painted. I never really knew him as a married man but the darkness and searching shadows never disappeared from his work. From his early watercolour masterpieces, in my opinion some of his greatest work, to his latter day temperas that fetched a pretty price, Ganesh was never able to crawl out of the shell that he inhabited with an innate insecurity that he was unable to shed.

But, he was as good as the best, and better. I shall miss him very, very much.

VICTOR BANERJEE, actor

 

Rooted artist, close friend

Pyne couldn’t be categorised, he was unique, that is what sets him apart.

In the early 1980s, while in search of good art and artists as always, I came across Ganesh Pyne’s work first and then the man himself. From there on a good relationship developed and we grew quite close.

He was basically an introvert and his art also expressed the same. He worked on only one theme throughout — life under the shadow of death. Though there were many… variations, sometimes formal, sometimes thematic.

In early life he was inspired by Abanindranath Tagore, but instead of just sticking to Tagore’s formal art he went into the depth of what they meant. He was quite influenced by his concept of life. Pyne also focussed on the ‘handling of light’ in the works of Abanindranath, and later moved on to Gaganendranath Tagore, Rembrandt, Paul Klee and others.

He was in search of an understanding of the ever-looming darkness and shadows cast by death, while life was nothing but a flickering light to him. Though he was inspired by all these artists, he carried on his investigation and expression in his own country; his art was based on his Indian experience. Pyne was a very rooted artist.

All that I have left today are the memories of a very close friendship and his art…. Harbour, 1971, and Raktakarabi, 1957, inspired by the play itself, are the works I treasure the most

PRANAB RANJAN ROY, art historian

 

Indian-ness set him apart

This is the end of an era. There cannot be another Ganesh Pyne.

The Indian-ness in his art set him apart. It was not traditional, but Indian. Like in terms of his flow method, making his very own colours, the pigments, and the subjects of his art which were all inspired from his own life. I always admired his work, especially his technical side. Though sometimes I felt he was a little stiff.

ARPITA SINGH, artist

 

Icon with an aura

I was not in touch with him for long, though I did meet him a number of times in the ’70s and ’80s. He was a unique artist who created a very special aura both in his work and in himself as a person. He was an artist of the ’70s and a great influence till the early ’90s. Though, for today, he has already become a part of history despite being an icon as an artist.

VIVAN SUNDARAM, artist

 

Soda Fountain adda to love like Pakeezah

Violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin had bought his painting. M.F. Husain put him at the top of his list of great contemporary artists of India. Indira Gandhi used to admire his work. When foreign dignitaries came to visit her, the Prime Minister would often choose a Ganesh Pyne from the National Gallery of Modern Art and put it up in the guest’s room. But the Ganeshda I knew was the man who was a fixture at our adda sessions at New York Soda Fountain, opposite the GC Laha store, in Dharamtallah.

Those were the days in the mid-60s when we were young men chasing our dream of becoming painters. Ganeshda was about seven-eight years senior to me. He had become a member of the Society of Contemporary Artists. We belonged to Calcutta Painters. Our common haunt was Soda Fountain. I used to go over to Bikashda (Bhattacharjee)’s studio and together we would hop over to KC Das for kachuri and then reach Soda Fountain.

Ganeshda had a special seat there. He loved to listen to ghost stories. He listened more, spoke less. I remember when I returned from Europe in 1974, how eager he was to listen to my travel tales. He loved classical music and Rabindrasangeet too and would attend select live performances.

In the ’70s, we started visiting each other regularly. My mezzanine studio in our College Street home was a stone’s throw away from his place in Kabiraj Row. After dinner, I would walk him home, chatting ceaselessly all the way. Then he made a pact that I would stop halfway at Medical College and go back. I used to do illustrations for Anandabazar Patrika back then.

Ganeshda was always an introvert. Yet in 1967-68, when we organised a public event called Calcutta Art Fair in Market Square, opposite the municipal corporation, he contributed paintings. I remember his pictures selling for Rs 100 then. The value of these paintings later multiplied many times over and sold for lakhs.

For a long time, he used to do animation design for a man called Mandar Mallik, whose studio was opposite Vidyasagar College, near Srimani Bazar. That used to be his livelihood then.

Once we were watching Pakeezah together. During a scene where Raaj Kumar tenderly holds Meena Kumari’s ankle and extracts a thorn, Ganeshda sighed: “Will anyone ever love us...?” He was rejected in love once and never married. When the lady lost her husband, she contacted him and they married late in life.

When he shifted to south Calcutta after marriage to wife Meera’s flat near Vivekananda Park, he snapped all ties with Kabiraj Row and his family there, and started living a secluded life. That’s why many misunderstood him. He seldom met people except at public events. Still, we kept in touch over telephone. He never missed the New Year parties at my Raichak house. Some months ago, he got me to organise a get-together so he could meet those he hadn’t seen in a long time.

His peak period as artist was the ’70s-80s. In 2010, Ananda Publishers brought out a collection of his letters to an admirer in Germany, titled Shilpa Chinta. If one were to rank documents of human exchange, this book would rank towards the top, so lucidly does it give an insight into the churn in an artist’s mind.

He charted a progress route for the Bengal School of Art by giving birth to a new language of art by mixing internationalism and modernity with the scent of soil and plants and myths of Bengal.

In this, he reminds me of Jibanananda Das in whose poems Egypt, Babylon and an ancient bird flit in and out as he roams the streets of Barishal.

The line drawings Ganeshda did for Nikhil Sarkar (Sripantha)’s book on Calcutta, titled Metiaburujer Nawab, or the two-volume Mahabharata are unparalleled.

We last met at a CIMA exhibition a few months back. He wanted to see Arts Acre [a foundation set up by Shuvaprasanna in Rajarhat]. Somehow that trip never happened.

SHUVAPRASANNA, artist

 

Prized frames

Ganesh Pyne was famous from 1960 and people had started collecting him from then. Dr Mukund Lath of Jaipur and I used to collect him in a consistent way from 1968 right up to 1986 when he became expensive.

Prakash Kejriwal, gallerist

 

Lines that leap out of canvas

I first got to know Ganesh Pyne about 20-25 years ago. He was known to my uncle, Suresh Neotia, who had acquired quite a few of his sketches.

Personally, I have long been associated with him, especially through the many exhibitions that he participated in with which I was very closely associated.

He was an introvert, spoke very little and let his art do all the talking. His art was dark, melancholy and had a certain sensitivity to it. His lines are extremely powerful and literally leap out of the canvas. His artwork is so alive and full of expressions; there is so much of movement in them.

He used to love going to Raichak and watch the river, so he always had a preference of a room on the top floor of the hotel. Once on a visit to Raichak, I got to know that he was there and dropped by to talk to him. Later, whenever we visited together I would drop in. It was around last Durga Puja that I met him at Raichak for the last time.

Presently, we have three large and about 15 small sketches of his. There is this one painting of a Baul singer I really like a lot.

HARSH NEOTIA, industrialist

 

Mystic art that goes deep

We were contemporaries. We were both at the Government College of Art and Craft in the 1950s, and he was in his first year perhaps when I was in my fifth year. In the 1960s there was an art revolution in Bengal…. The Society of Contemporary Artists was formed and Ganesh Pyne soon became a part of it. I joined much later and enjoyed working with Pyne on a number of occasions.

The art revolution in Bengal started way back in the 1940s and carried on to the ’50s. At that point, the artists were faced with a sudden crisis — how to set themselves apart, how to express themselves? At that point, Pyne developed an answer by creating a mystic world through his art. It was like an archaeologist who unearths old artefacts and rejoices in that glory, so it was with Pyne as he discovered something really old in his way.

There is a mystic feel to his work, there is always something to discover. His art is not about swimming on the surface of the water, but about going into the depths.

One of my friends has passed away… everyone is leaving. We are getting old and one by one all my friends are leaving. Even though their work will stay on, in history and in hearts, but the loss of a friend is immense and can never be replaced.

GANESH HALOI, artist