The Architectonics of Form: Scrolls by Ganesh Haloi, the latest solo exhibition of the master artist curated by Jesal Thacker at Akar Prakar Kolkata (April 23-July 16, 2022), brings together his long-time preoccupations with naturalism and abstraction. The 23 works on display, created with Chinese ink sticks and watercolours on porous Japanese scroll paper canvases, demonstrate Haloi’s keen interest in East Asian artistic traditions. These paintings reveal his philosophical inclinations toward Buddhism and Taoism, in particular his fascination with the latter for its principles of simplicity and harmony with nature. The vertical arrangement of the paintings is also reminiscent of the Japanese tradition of Kakemono, where scrolls hung on walls depict religious subjects, calligraphic patterns and scenic views of nature.

Landscape painting has always played a central role in Haloi’s practice and he continues to reimagine and reshape this genre with his extracted forms of lines, dots and dashes. The affinity to nature and landscapes has its roots in Haloi’s childhood spent in Jamalpur (in present-day Bangladesh). Aerial views of the landscape of Bengal form a recurrent trope in many of his paintings. In his last major exhibition called Sense and Sensation, held at Akar Prakar in September-October 2021, the thematic complexities of rural landscapes were rendered in sharp geometric lines but retained a stained effect. The use of colour, dispersed by buffing or smudging ink onto canvas, gave the works a quaint look against which the contrast of modernist black motifs symbolized the dichotomy between the old and the new. This poetic conflict between the past and the present, the classical and the modern, recurs in in The Architectonics of Form, which carries forward the play on binaries with the juxtaposition of the inner and outer worlds in the artist’s journey of self-reflection.

The paintings unravel through structural shifts in their geometric shapes, tonal variations and floral and faunal motifs, along with a gradual release of colour as one progresses from Scroll 1 to 23. Scrolls 1 to 11 are completely in black and white; sudden streaks of colour emerge on the black paint from Scroll 12 with the colours peaking in intensity by the time the viewer arrives at the last painting in Untitled 23. This transition symbolizes a movement from darkness to light, from absence to presence, from obliviousness to acknowledgment.

As the title of the exhibition suggests, these linear compositions lend structural integrity but are also infused with fluidity, owing to Haloi’s inherent skill in unifying polarities across rigidity and flexibility, stillness and movement. Walking past the scrolls, one senses a transition from emptiness to the ornamental, from harshness to softness. The gradual evolution of colours and patterns stand testament to the beauty of life. As Haloi writes in words and lines strewn across the exhibition: “Beauty, I and an object; between the two. Time and Space build a gap. And therefore. We are separate, different. When our souls unite, Time and Space wither away. The veil covering us; Is removed. Beauty reveals itself.” (1987)

The combination of Japanese scrolls and Chinese ink showcase Haloi’s eclectic approach to aesthetics while the format of the scrolls with their elongated panels allows for an episodic viewing experience imbued with an illustrative quality. Certain individual works like Scroll 7 attain a three-dimensional structure through the application of pigments. The layering of colours in different textures and the crisp, prominent, dark straight lines create an illusory effect. Scroll 2 pulses with an energy that evokes a kind of musicality: the lines are fragmentary, yet move in a cohesive manner, and convey a strange mixture of conflict and harmony. The pulsating energy that is sometimes delicate suddenly takes on a frantic form in Scrolls 3 and 4. The lines become deeper and darker and are executed with bold brushstrokes as opposed to the thin elusive lines typically associated with Haloi’s works.

Haloi’s art is also informed by his memories of temple carvings, flower motifs and the murals of Ajanta, all of which take shape through fragments in each scroll. The decorative elements pertaining to floral and jewellery designs and playful birds are given a modernist look. Thereby, Haloi breaks away from temporal limitations to work within a space of absolute artistic freedom. The Scroll series is a culmination of a set of experiments that began in 2002 which first saw Haloi using gouache and Chinese ink painting; this spurred his interests in presenting them on larger majestic scroll canvases. Looking at the large Untitled 23 with its colour palette of black, yellow, red, green and blue, one is instantly reminded of the walls of Ajanta. The ancient site has been an important source of inspiration for Haloi, ever since the late 1950s when he was appointed by the Archaeological Survey of India to make copies of the cave murals. This period also changed the trajectory of his artistic career, encouraging him to shift his style from realism to abstraction. These memories of the past make their way into the recent set of scrolls, along with influences drawn from other kinds of Buddhist art, Indian miniature paintings, Bauhaus and Expressionism. They come together to form a unique aesthetic that represents a confluence of the inner and outside worlds in Haloi’s imagination.

By abstraction, Haloi does not specifically allude to the art movement but rather stresses on the fact that often “we forget to notice the constant presence of the abstract” [1] in the world around us. He prefers seeing abstraction within an intermediary space that captures both that which is present and absent. The refuge he seeks in the past and within nature underpins a sense of loss of belonging and a yearning to return to the homeland he left behind when he migrated to Calcutta in 1950, after the 1947 partition of Bengal. Much like his favourite Bengali poet, Jibananda Das, Haloi hopes that through his works, he “Shall resurrect and return to the banks of the river Dhansiri in this Bengal; If not as human, then as a conch-necked kite or a common myna; Maybe as a crow of dawn that flies in fields of the new harvest of early winter fall.” The Architectonics of Form is a homage to the emotional maps ever-present in Haloi’s abstract paintings and his ongoing search for identity and belonging through the homes he builds in colours, lines and scroll surfaces.


[1] Stutee Kotnala, “An Intricate Narrative of Nature in Abstract,” April 27, 2017, , accessed May 12, 2022.

[2] Translation of Jibananda Das’original Bengali poem “Abar Ashibo Phire” from, accessed May 12, 2022.

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