Mapping Terrains: The Art of Ganesh Haloi.

If you entered the Salt Lake house of Ganesh Haloi, what greets the eye first in his drawing room are his paintings resonating in the style of the Ajanta caves, and thereby hangs a tale. Born in 1936 in Jamalpur,Bangladesh, Haloi lost his father at the age of nine and within two years came the Partition which uprooted him from his hometown in Mymensing district and reduced him to a flotsam for over a year on this side of the borders,drifting between refugee camps. In 1951,when he was a student at the Government College of Art & Craft,Calcutta his address was platform number 12,Howrah Station. Unlike his peers,whose art was shaped by the suffering and pain of the Partition and the riots that followed, the life of struggle has never had any bearing upon his art. The agony of bare existence has never been stronger for him than his agony of life in art. Ganesh Haloi has always been in pursuit of purity of an artistic idiom that adequately transforms his personally perceived spaces of existence into visual spaces in art. Nature has been the mainstay of this perception,formed quite early in life when he was quite young in his native East Bengal. It was closely linked with his growing awareness of all the forms of existential spaces that stretch spiritually and physically ,both as fluid and solid reality, away from his subjectivity. Later in life his art added a third dimension to that awareness. Art enabled him with a means to trace the contours of those spaces in terms of pictorial structures defined in all the interactive plastic components of a created image. After completing his education at the art college Haloi joined the Archaeological Survey of India as resident artist and documented the cave paintings of Ajanta between 1957-1963. After his stint at Ajanta,he joined his Alma Mater and taught at the Government College of Art and Crafts,Calcutta from 1963-1993. It was a learning process for himself as he slowly began to arrive at an individual style,which he could claim to be his own. His long association with the Ajanta murals influenced him profoundly and since 1971 his work started showing a comparable lyricism. Working with many mediums and initially painting figures in a landscape,he shifted focus to landscapes where a sense of nostalgia for a lost world pervaded his works. Eventually, Haloi concentrated on abstract renderings of landscapes. Dots,dashes and lines became cryptic signs for trees,water and green fields. For him, the landscape is not a realistic transcription of the seen,but rather,is an energetic palimpsest, part-land,part-map,part-manuscript written over with directions and playful gestures. He transforms the landscape into an occasion for contemplating the play of the transient against eternity. On looking at his terrains of great creative profundity,they capture your imagination slowly and gradually. It takes time to respond to his gentle and sophisticated vision. He does not overwhelm,he charms and it takes a while to enter into his complex, well-bred magic. He is a magician of wisdom and breeding,which is a rare quality in the art world today. Though a man with a very individual and imaginatively self-sustaining insight, his mind and sensibility reveal the erudite cultivation and aesthetic of the Bengal School. His paintings too,breathe the same inner spirit. Rather than calling them ‘abstract’ one could call his works distillations. The landscape can be read in them, glowing with a poetic sensibility of the best of the Bengal School. But what makes his technical mastery a truly resonant art is the effortlessness with which it is wedded to his painterly perception, a sure sign of incisive creativity. Haloi’s abstractions, filtered to their present pure dimensions,contain within them hidden civilizations and imagined landscapes of what was lost in transition. Distilled seascapes or landscapes, Haloi’s work contain depths beyond the abstracted forms of quiet green-blues,sienna-rust and yellow-greys. Beneath the abstractional brown or smudging are cornices,arches,gateways-remnants of architectural structures,layers and layers under the surface. The viewer never misses in the most abstract of his images, a subtext of spaces inwardly interlinking natural and pictorial forms. This is because nature’s shape,forms and colours in all their sensuous and spiritual dimensions are deeply rather subliminally ingrained in Haloi’s sensibility that took shape quite early in his life in the open spaces under the blue sky,in the endless stretches of paddy fields and in the vast expanses of water bodies in riverine East Bengal. Memories of his travel as a young man to Ajanta,Malda amd Cambodia’s famed Angor Wat temples appear on his painting surface fleetingly,only to disappear under the gouache-washed forms and you wonder if those ridged abbreviated pillars and portals are a sleight of hand or a deliberate illusion of architectural splendours corroded to leave behind a wisp of a minaret here and the whisper of an arch there. Vinayak Pasricha.