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A flurry of dashes: Ganesh Haloi’s latest works capture shifting moods of the artist

Exquisite: An untitled work by Haloi from the ongoing exhibition.   | Photo Credit: Akar Prakar

Poised delicately between being and nothingness, seen and unseen, form and formless, negative and positive space, Ganesh Haloi’s art bears the imprint of his childhood memories of chequerboard green paddy fields, looking-glass ponds and snaking rivers, and of folk music and folk art. Yet it is devoid of sentimentality. It has the sophistication characteristic of an artist who is on familiar terms with the verse of Bengali poet Jibanananda Das as well as with the modernist experiments of Kandinsky, who painted music.

In a short poem he wrote, Haloi has summed up the quintessence of his aesthetics: seemingly contrary or opposing forces may complement each other and are actually interconnected. He draws strength from the coexistence of binaries.

Flights of fancy

But Haloi’s latest works — most of them in black and white — are not mere studies in contrasts for they capture shifting moods of the artist (Sense & Sensation: Paintings in Ink and Brush, being held at Kolkata’s Akar Prakar gallery and also available for online viewing). Born in 1936 in Bangladesh’s Jamalpur district, Haloi deftly demarcates

space like a skilled surveyor, handling lines with the zest of a fisherman casting a net or the fervour of a youngster flying a kite. Nature is still the protagonist of Haloi’s paintings, which come so close to drawings, but instead of colour, the stress is on the lilt and dance of lines. The lines pirouette like musical notes, tracing the artist’s flights of fancy. Executed with aplomb, they define the formal elements of nature’s design with the severity of geometry relieved by bold strokes of calligraphy or the whimsicality of natural forms, which keep changing like the symmetrical patterns in a kaleidoscope.

Till now Haloi has tapped nature for inspiration. But here he allows himself some leeway as he works into his rather austere framework the merest hints of ornamentation — flowers, buds and leaves, climbers, saplings, step-wells and fantastical geometric forms. These motifs seem to share a kinship with the elegant linear designs that often appear on tailpieces of books. Haloi elaborates them further as he introduces pools of black, which serve as backdrops for these embellishments. In a way, the recent works go back to his art college days, when he did those fine nature studies with pen and ink.

Haloi says he introduced these decorative elements and curious forms to evoke a lively atmosphere: “The flowers are deliberately stylised. I did not want them to be naturalistic. That would not have looked good. Black and white are meant for space division. I wanted to show that tiny little flowers can bloom in the dark. They exist even in the gloom.”

Sprays of dots

He adds: “Death does not have any form while life takes a certain form. We can see a rose. But its fragrance is not visible. Young men and women are embodied in human form. They may love and offer each other roses but their love is not visible.”

A particular work stands out of this new crop, where the heads of a peacock and a swan face each other. As in many of these works, the rest of the vast white space is not virginal — it is smudged with grey and sprays of tiny dots. “I was thinking of what to draw and then remembered these two folk toys in my collection,” says Haloi. As to the flurry of dashes in some works that can easily be mistaken for the running stitches used in kanthas, Haloi clarifies that he was recollecting in tranquillity the ripples at the confluence of three rivers — the Hooghly, Damodar and Rupnarayan — at Gadiara, a popular picnic spot in Howrah district of West Bengal.

The tireless artist

Haloi had moved to India with his family after Partition. Following his training at Government College of Art & Craft, where he

taught later, he took up a job with the Archaeological Survey of India. Drawing was always his strong point: when he was posted at Ajanta, he did a series of exquisite copies of the famous murals. He has, of late, used these works to create a fascinating scrapbook after mastering the use of Photoshop. His work was exhibited at documenta 14 in 2017 both in Athens, Greece, and Kassel, Germany, and they have been acquired by important museums in India and abroad.

Age, bereavement and illness notwithstanding, Haloi has continued to paint tirelessly. He keeps returning to the verdant Bengal of his imagination, reducing all obtrusive details of vegetation and human presence to the very minimum as he renews his vision at every new stage of his artistic development. It would be interesting to find out what the next phase of his work would be. Will Ganesh Haloi wipe out all vestiges of form? “I can never predict this. Ideas come to my head when I sit in front of a blank sheet of paper,” he says.

The writer focuses on Kolkata’s vanishing heritage and culture.

On show:Sense & Sensation: Paintings in Ink and Brushat Akar Prakar, Kolkata, till August 7

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 4:36:17 PM |

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