How to sound like an expert on Bhupen Khakhar’s iconic work
Use our cheat sheet before the artist's retrospective at Tate Modern
This June, Tate Modern, in partnership with Deutsche Bank and Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi, will present the first international retrospective of Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar since his death in 2003. The exhibition is titled Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All, after his iconic painting depicting the inner struggle of a gay man.
The Padma Shri awardee was a key figure in modern Indian art and among the first Indian painters to exhibit his work internationally in the 20th century. His works continue to elicit whopping bids; his 'American Survey Officer' painting sold at Rs 2.54 crore at a Sotheby’s auction in New York this March, well over its estimate.
Flip through the gallery for our cheat sheet
Do say: He drew from the personal as he addressed themes of religion, class politics and gender in his work.
Elaborate: Khakhar was untrained as an artist: he began painting after he completed his MA in art criticism from Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, in his late twenties. His first exhibition was at the age of 31. Influenced by British artist David Hockney, Khakkar depicted ordinary, everyday things that he observed in his small-city environment to make statements about his views on religion, sexuality and society. This, along with his lack of training lent his work a stunning authenticity that was celebrated in the West, and seen as satirical in India. He often painted about his experience in society as a homosexual and in his old age, painted his battle with cancer.
Do say: Salman Rushdie and Khakhar adored each other’s work.
Elaborate with: The character of the accountant in Salman Rushdie's novel, The Moor's Last Sigh, was inspired by Khakhar, who was an accountant by training. His patrons even gave him a part-time job as an accountant to help support himself while he was making art. Later, Khakhar made a portrait of Salman Rushdie called 'The Moor' which is now housed in the National Portrait Gallery of London. Khakhar also illustrated the author’s Two Stories, with five woodcuts and three linocuts.
Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All is on from June 1-November 6 at Tate Modern, London
Do say: He incorporated different techniques and styles, and still retained his authenticity.
Elaborate with: He drew as comfortably from Hindu mythological iconography as he did from the Pop Art movement (which was gaining momentum during his career). But he's always held on to his Indian perspective and distinctly middle-class lens. (PS: have a look at his article, Notes On The Visual Sources In My Paintings for a list of everything that's charmed him.)