Arguably one of the more enigmatic figures in the Indian art scene, Ganesh Pyne has created his own
universe. He was born on June 11, 1937 in Kolkata, West Bengal. One gets the distinct feeling that he is not
interested in the immediate moment or the everyday reality that surrounds him. He has often said that he sees
a parallel world unfolding itself, “In my mind’s eye, I see things in my own way. I carry my own world within
me. And often this world runs parallel to the world of reality in which I live. My inner world is rooted in my
childhood. It has been nourished by my childhood associations.” An air of sadness envelops him. One
wonders at the deep sense of loss that makes him talk so wistfully. Pyne never forgets the evanescence of life
and the knowledge that death is ever-present. Feeling blue is a way of life with him and it is understandable
when one gets to know his childhood and youth. He seemed to have had more than the ordinary share of
traumas in his childhood.
At the age of four, Pyne joined the infant class of City
Collegiate School where he remained until his
matriculation. Diverse influence shaped him in his
growing years. But the person who coloured the
deepest core of his being is his grandmother,
Nandarani. She had a wonderful gift of imagination
and was born a raconteur. Pyne remembers her
turning a mundane meal into a marvelous landscape.
In an interview many years ago, Pyne admitted that
though he grew up with all the care and affection from
his family, he always had the feeling that he was
unloved and his only sanctuary was his grandmother.
In 1952, when he was 15, he saw a major exhibition of
Abanindranath Tagore’s works mounted at the Indian Museum.
This was a revelation to him. It was his first
exposure directly to a major artist’s work and Pyne was inspired by Abanindranath’s way of seeing life and
nature. So the boyhood years came to a close. After finishing his intermediate examination, Pyne decided that
he was not going to pursue academic studies and that he was ready for bigger things. The family seniors did
not agree with Pyne’s plan as they wanted him to qualify for something. Finally, his uncle, Manohar Pyne
arranged for his nephew's admission to the Government Art College. Seeing his proficiency and innate
inclination towards art, he was allowed to join in the second year of college. He joined the western painting
department but his heart lay in the oriental painting department. He would watch carefully the students at
work. At the same time, he studied the developments in western art carefully. Fairly early during his stint at
the art college, Pyne had decided that he would chart his own course and not follow the dictates of any
school or movement. He had been caught up with the idea of naturalism and his figuration was drawn from
oriental art sources.
The young artist used to work with watercolours in those days. A 1955 watercolour called ‘Winter’s Morning’
reveals the influence of Abanindranath Tagore quite strongly and it carries the first signs of an enormous
talent that was bound to flower. He recalls Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru coming to an exhibition,
standing before his painting, observing it closely. He was an incredibly shy artist and seeing this made him
want to hide somewhere but Lady Ranu Mukherjee summoned him and introduced him to PM Nehru who
shook hands with Pyne and spoke a few words of encouragement. His painting got the first prize and the
audience was taken aback by his youth when he went up to receive the award. The prize was not entirely a
surprise to his teachers as they had great expectations from him.
For some time since the late fifties, the artist had been attempting to form groups. The last major effort was
when the Calcutta Group was formed in 1943. They were young painters and sculptors who wanted to chart
a new way of doing things. But the group dispersed within a decade. In 1963, he became a member of the
Society of Contemporary Artists. The 1960s was both the best and worst of times for Pyne. Released from
the confines of art college, life in the wide world was full of contrasts. For someone who rejected academic
studies, Pyne showed a remarkable predilection for words and ideas. He read voraciously and would attend
different poetry-reading sessions. In fact, he is one of the very few artists in Bengal who could bridge the
hiatus between the world of words and the world of images.
As far as his personal life was concerned, Pyne went on looking for a job and the replies to his applications
were always predictably a regret letter. Finally, he applied for a job as a designer at Kesoram Cotton Mills
and had been told that the job was his until one of the personal managers in the interview remarked “This job
is not for the Nandalal Boses and Jamini Roys of this world”. Feeling a little blue, he took a tram home. He
saw a little child on the way home carrying a paper bag full of some savories. He was touched by the way the
child was protecting the precious possession. This made him make up his mind instantly. He was not going
to look for a job anymore. He would nurture the gift that was his - his art. He carried on with this conquest
and established himself as one of the most notable contemporary artists of Bengal School of Art whose dark
imageries got him an international fame until he passed away from a heart attack on March 2013.
Excerpts from the book Ganesh Pyne: His Life and Times by Ella Datta published by CIMA Pvt. Ltd. in 1998.