Ganesh Pyne – Mandar Studio, Cornwallis Street

23rd January – 4th March, 2017
Akar Prakar, Kolkata

 

The recent chance discovery of some artwork, presumably made as components of an animation film (of pre-digital software age), by Mandar Mullik’s studio where Ganesh Pyne worked for earning his living between the mid-sixties and mid-eighties brings to fore a so-far-unknown aspect of the artist’s creative engagement.

Although in a quantitatively major segment of Ganesh Pyne’s oeuvre representations of nature’s physical features, normally recognised as landscape elements, are verily present, their conglomerations hardly ever appear as natural backgrounds or as sites of painted situations or events. The landscape images of Pyne’s paintings are much more integrated into the totalities or the gestalts of the visual presentations. The landscape imagery in Ganesh Pyne’s work usually are integral parts of elaborate mise en scene, to borrow a term from the realm of cinema.

The recent discoveries in discussion (as seen in the accompanying reproductions) are an exception to Ganesh Pyne’s so-far-known usual use of landscape imagery in painting. These are more genre-specific landscapes—landscapes without images of living, moving beings and man-made objects, landscapes of horizontally extended barren expanses of arid undulating land, land with rocky outcrops separated from each other. Furthermost in the painting are clusters of big trees in forest-like formations; while in the middle ground, sparsely foliaged shrubs stay lonely. Small waterbodies reflecting plants are occasionally found in the foreground.

With emphasis on the massy, dark shapes of the rocks, the undulated contours of the ground, the directional linearity of the plant trunks and branches, and, above all, on the spatial configuration of images (leaving lots of negative spaces in between), it becomes apparent that it is not simply a description of a landscape but an evocation of a feeling of desolation; that is the intention of the artist.

Apart from the chromatic use of dark and sombre to cool tones in masses, sparing linear touches of bright oranges and yellows in tree trunks, the branches electrify sensation with their unexpected suddenness. The viewer’s perception reaches further depth with the cognizance of morphological affinity between conglomerations of tree trunks, branches, twigs, and skeletal remains of living beings shining bright in the dusky dimness.

Besides this, the other visual-linguistic strategy that Ganesh Pyne adopted to divest these landscapes off descriptiveness is rendering of the images as shade and shadowless forms. Yet, the landscapes do have shadow forms and reflection forms. What distinguishes the two forms is their weightless insubstantiality, due to use of transparent watercolour tints as against the use of opaque watercolour for object images. Apart from this techno-linguistic tactics, the other visual-linguistic strategy that makes these Pyne landscapes enigmatic is his keeping of the shadow and reflection sources indeterminate. One looks in vain for the object correlates of the shadows, and the reflections one notices as images in these landscapes.

These landscapes thus merit to be categorized as imagined landscapes, rather than as experienced locations, as if these are sites awaiting some happening rather than where things have happened already. It is quite possible that a set of real-life geographic experiences in and around the Bengal–Bihar–Orissa border region have acted as triggers to their creation.

As has already been noted, these landscapes were made as components of an animation film. The other major component comprised narratives with anthropomorphized animals, birds, and serpentine characters. The narratives were illustrative of fables from Hitopodesh and Panchatantra. The stylization of the characters and the visual narration would inevitably follow Walt Disney’s charted course. Pyne, it seems, wanted to package Indian fables in Disney’s format. Transparent strips with characters painted in opaque watercolours in a narrative sequence would be manoeuvred by hand over backgrounds of landscape for registration on celluloid film-strips, though stop-gate camera for getting the animation films, clippings of working artwork of one or two of such films, are being included to give an idea of this facet of Pyne’s works.

Pranabranjan Ray