Ganesh Haloi's paintings may remind one of Jibanananda Das's poem, " Abar Asibo Phire", where the poet imagines that he would return to Bengal by the banks of the Dhansiri river, as a bird if not a human, and to the rivers, pastures and farmlands of his love, to the melancholy of the greenery watered by the waves of the Jalangi river. If one observes the paintings of Haloi, they are, as it were, a bird's eye view of Bengal's verdant landscape laid out before one, perfectly configured like geometrical diagrams. We get to see the lushness and the squares and rectangles of the paddy fields and sparkling waterbodies without any trace of the tears and tribulations of those who inhabit this apparently beautiful and bounteous land.
These are after all projections of the artist's imagination as he contemplates and recalls the land in which he was born, indeed in tranquillity. No human figure is present anywhere in these paintings. Absence notwithstanding, the human presence is unmistakable. The stubble on a paddy field post-harvest and the sailing boats with their bright and colourful fluttering pennants are all indicators. The artist seems to have scanned images of the familiar landscape inside his mind and used them as his medium of expression. The topography he depicts is all very real, and yet it is not so. For it is the artist who imbues it with a great sense of serenity and calm.
His current exhibition at Akar Prakar, titled Ganesh Haloi - The Feeling Eye (till January 9), is once again inspired by Bengal landscapes, as they have been for many years. Yet it is different from works seen more often. To begin with, one cannot help noticing the dashes of colour. Previously, he used few colours besides the matt shades of green or grey or brown and the very distinctive lines that defined and mapped the geography of the land he reimagined. Now, many contrasting hues, some brilliant, and diverse forms appear. It is easy to discover the influence of modernists such as Wassily Kandinsky and Paul Klee in their playfulness. But are not the stimuli more localized?
These are more like the idiosyncratic elements introduced into the designs of nakshi kanthas by the women who once stitched them. Not the ones mass produced today, but the intricately embroidered ones women once hand-stitched for use in their households. This is not to suggest that Haloi followed the designs of the nakshi kantha, but the impulse to deviate from set patterns is the same. The artist intricately embroiders motifs of harvesting, musical notes and other cryptic signs that appear like hieroglyphs in the works.
There is an unmistakable change in the palette. There are deep emerald, viridian, sap and lime green corresponding to the varying shades of paddy fields when the rising sap is almost visible. Counterpoised with these are areas of ochre of various degrees of intensity: Indian red, sepia, earth brown and burnt umber and sienna.
Then there are the dancing geometrical forms - curves, straight lines and triangles - dots, dashes, enigmatic notations and shorthand for clumps of trees, boats with their sails billowing in the wind, and twittering flowers. The artist seems to cast them about randomly. Yet, each painting is perfectly composed as the varied forms hold a dialogue with one another. Their poise is unmistakable. Is Haloi referring to the angular forms with multiple planes that Gaganendranath Tagore had conjured up when he experimented with Cubism? There is no piling up of planes, but the jagged lines that form pyramids and steps in a particular work - it could be mistaken for a blueprint - with a dark brown backdrop suggest a similar interest in revealing the essence of what he observed. It is as if he were recalling the Bangladesh village in Mymensingh where he was born, but only through the filter of his imagination, sweeping aside the redundant details. This is the same artist who had been uprooted from his birthplace after Partition, and who had made those exquisite copies of Ajanta murals while he was posted there by the Archaeological Survey of India. In one painting, a flower - not unlike the jaba or hibiscus - makes an appearance. He turns 81 this year, and his paintings are awash with a pellucid light that holds this fertile land in its kindly embrace. He is revisiting the same land, but only as he sees it. This abstraction has all the warmth of humanity emerging as it did from the alluvial soil of Bengal.
Published in The Telegraph, January 2017