AN ARTIST'S DIARY OF SKETCHES AND PREPARATORY DRAWINGS
Ink on paper
8 1/4 x 6 1/2 in. (20.9 x 16.4 cm.)
Approximately one hundred pages with multiple sketches and writings plus a further twelve tipped in drawings. Variously signed and dated.
Acquired directly from the artist.
'Pyne portrays a melancholy state where annihilation and death are constant bystanders. The palette is subtle and luminous and the compositions show the enigmatic emergence of human figures, animal forms and natural objects in a crepuscular light. One can recognize in this chiaroscuro the contours of a dream, which may only be a way of expressing the angst of modern life. An animal bares its fangs while an innocent longhaired girl stands with a pitcher on the banks of a pond, an ape stands by an empty chair. A door and a window of a disintegrating building open onto a mysterious darkness. Pyne pursues quietly the essence of reality without resorting to a representation of the physical world, and if the negation of life obsesses him, he also always introduces a countervailing source of illumination to register hope, courage, mental equilibrium.' (Ella Datta, Ganesh Pyne His Life and Times, Kolkata, 1998, pp. 15-16)
From the early years, Ganesh Pyne sketched incessantly, sometimes adding lines of poetry or thoughts penned in the midst of the images. Pyne's jottings and sketches form an integral part of his oeuvre. Frequently created on graph paper, or as in this case, the lined pages of a diary, these works provide unique insights into the artist's creative process and thinking. The current diary, dated 1981-1984, contains pen and ink sketches and preparatory drawings for several well-known paintings including Relics, The Bird, Morning and The Carpenter, that Pyne later produced in tempera. It includes numerous sketches that reveal an evolving idea or form, that in many instances were never developed into fully worked temperas, but in some instances, they became a minor element in a more complex composition. The sketches often present multiple versions of the same scene. This process allowed the artist to resolve certain elements of composition, ornamental detailing and colouring, before proceeding to the slow, methodical process of transposing the image to a fully worked tempera. The diary also includes handwritten notes concerning artistic methods or art historical and literary references.
As Ella Datta says, 'A glimpse of the notebooks reveal a stream-of-consciousness process. As the image takes concrete shape, he continues to develop it. Pyne is seen at his purest in his notebooks. The lines are precise, controlled, the drawing strong and potent. The images are enigmatic, lyrical, melancholy and haunted. One can see in these sketches, stripped of the seductions of colour, the architectonic quality that he wants to convey in the structuring of his images. And then with the cross-hatchings, he creates shadowy, mysterious, even terrifying dimensions.' (ibid., p. 57)
In the 1960s, Pyne abandons his Abanindranath Tagore inspired watercolours in favour of tempera. This change of preferred medium evolves in parallel to a change of palette, as well as a change in figuration. The new visual language comprises a multitude of ghoulish figures frequently emaciated or skeletal in form. Motifs such as boats, bones, birds, doors and windows are recurring elements of his artistic vocabulary. The imagery in his paintings reflects aspects of his subconscious, a quality that evolved during his stint as an animator, and evolves further out of his jottings.
Pyne's symbolism borrows elements from folk stories, mythological episodes, and fairy tales. His signature style includes bold and precise forms, dark, layered colour tones, often lifted by a single source of ethereal light. The artist's own experiences of horror, isolation and depression became the catalysts for his imagery that evolves in his works. Dubbed as 'a poet of melancholia' by Ranjit Hoskote, his paintings carry a meticulous narrative quality, which reflect both deeply personal experiences, and yet, can be understood at a more general mythological level. His imagery contains hidden markers that reveal elements of his own understanding of Indian myths and fairy tales. The appearance of these symbols in several paintings (frequently themselves painted over many years), reveal a slow evolution of his own metaphorical vocabulary that builds in complexity over time and over the course of his career.
It is interesting to note that in the current diary, Pyne quotes Joseph Campbell's book Myths to Live By: 'A Mythology is a system of images that interprets a concept of the universe as a divinely energised and energising ambience, within which we live. A myth then is a single story or a single element of the whole mythology, and the various stories of the mythology interlock to be consistent with the great world image. But myths are not invented as stories are. Myths are inspired. They come from the same matter that dreams come from, that level below the strict hold of consciousness, which I could call the nature wisdom.' In many ways, one can read the repeated sketches and evolution of forms that evolve in Pyne's diary as the artist's own response to the ideas raised in Campbell's book. His multiple drawings can be seen as single elements in the artist's own personal mythology. These recurring symbols are treated in the same manner that Campbell discusses, and the dream world below the 'strict hold of Consciousness' is precisely the world that Pyne's paintings inhabit.
The 1980s began for Pyne with disaster. In 1980, Kartik, his older brother died after a long illness and Pyne felt bereft. He mourned and grieved but could not overcome his sense of loss. For many months he could not motivate himself to paint and he suffered from severe depression. Handwritten notes within the sketches in the current diary hint at this overpowering sense of loss, and elements of his grief permeate much of what the artist created over the coming years. 'In the early eighties, Pyne's temperas turned from heart wrenching bleakness to a sublimation of personal grief. He did just one tempera in 1980 called "The door, the windows." The facade of a desolate, dilapidated building has an open door and window which are nothing but dark voids hinting at the painful emptiness within.' (ibid., p 62) The diary includes a preparatory sketch for the tempera Relics, which was exhibited at the annual exhibition of the Society of Contemporary artists. Datta states, 'The tempera transported his personal grief into a timeless image of the struggle between death and immortality.' (ibid.)
A somewhat mysterious element of Pyne's artistic process is the method he used to make his own tempera pigment. Early in his career, Ganesh Pyne had read a book by Nandalal Bose that included a chapter on painting in tempera. The medium appealed to him because, at this early stage in his career, the materials required for making these natural pigments were available locally, and were cheap to produce. This financial concern led him to reject the more expensive imported paints and to experiment with his own form of tempera. Initially, Pyne tried various binders including egg, most commonly used by western artists, but he was not satisfied with the results, and so moved on to gum acacia, which he believed gave a 'certain glow' to his pigments. Interestingly, within the current diary, several pages of notes are dedicated to the process of preparing 'gum tempera emulsion' giving precise proportions of each ingredient and the manner in which to mix them. These techniques were elements of his artistic process that he closely guarded during his lifetime. Beyond the artistic merits of his sketches, these notes are invaluable to our understanding of his methodical approach.
'Pyne likes to think of himself as a medievalist. And indeed, his visual imagination, like that of the visionaries and mystics of the past, sees beyond the rational, material world around him to the altered reality of an enchanted world. Here a rag doll or a toy horse has a life of its own and in combination with human figures convey with poignancy the vulnerability and resurgence of the human spirit.' (ibid., p 17)