Both ideas are common features in Pyne's work, drawing from the worlds of dance and theater as much as it does from religious epics and modern myths. The artist’s childhood was marked by the death of his father when he was just 9 years old, and the later death of his beloved grandmother. Growing up in Calcutta, he saw the Direct Action Day riots of 1946 firsthand, witnessing decaying bodies lying in the street. All castes, high and low, were suddenly reduced to nothing more than their human shells. Pyne recalls seeing a cart full of bodies, amongst them a dead woman from a high caste who was naked, her skin grey, her throat gashed and bloody, her gold necklace still glistening. The violence of Partition, (and the later wars with Pakistan and Bangladesh in the early 1970s) were the turbulent backdrop to Pyne’s formative years. The omnipresence of displaced, alienated people in the city deeply affected the artist, and sheds some light on Pyne’s fixation with the marginal characters of migrants, beggars and social outcasts.
His preoccupation with such figures, and indeed with the condition of anonymity is exemplified in the present work. Lamp and the Effigy may pass at first glance for a portrait, with the large scale figure easily mistaken for a male protagonist. Only upon closer inspection does the viewer notice the dark hollows for eyes and angular edges of a humanoid mask. The awkward, puppet-like posture of the body further emphasizes its lack of agency: this is a figure ready for manipulation, and completely at the mercy of forces beyond the picture frame. This sinister notion of puppetry resonates plainly with the violence inflicted upon civilian refugees in war-torn India, later tossed without ceremony into a mass grave. Pyne’s idiosyncratic depiction of lamplight in the current lot is an excellent example of the artist’s fascination with chiaroscuro, and adds an element of Pyne’s characteristic theatricality. The artist's signature technique of working in tempera was developed in the late 1960s, recalling that of medieval miniaturists who glazed their works with natural dye and used egg-whites as a fixative over each layer of color. In a similar vein, Pyne created his own binding agents and fixatives from indigenous plant varieties, a particularly laborious process which could often take months. In this painting, the brighter areas also manifest a greater luminosity by way of the tempera finish.
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