Bhupen Khakhar (Bombay, 1934 - Baroda, India, 2003) is one of the most internationally renowned Indian artists and the central figure in the School of Baroda. His first solo exhibition was in 1965 at a gallery in his hometown. He continued to exhibit in Paris, Amsterdam, London, Berlin and New Delhi among other cities where his paintings received well-deserved recognition. He also produces literary work where the distinctive narrative so characteristic of his paintings stands out.
A collection of sixty-nine works are exhibited in a retrospective exhibition consisting mainly of thirty-seven oil paintings, in addition to watercolours and acrylics on paper and three of the artist's ceramics. Ending with current pieces, the journey begins with his piece Sheikh, Flower pot and the Moon (1969) and then jumps to 1974 where the assimilation of Pop Art and kitsch is obvious in works such as those the artist calls "commercial series", among which are pieces such as: Janata Watch Repairing, factory strike and Assistant Accountant - Mr IM Shah, all from 1972.
During this decade Khakhar initially focuses on the expression of subjectivity to later develop a genre dedicated to daily life in a provincial town. The sacred often appears represented through religious ceremonies. That is when the artist would begin to use narratives that assume a subversive intention, undetected as such to begin with, but with the evolution of his work it would become an obvious factor in his creations, to such an extent that it would lead him to play a political role in India's art scene. Since 1980 Khakhar’s homosexuality is evident in his paintings, representing himself as a lover and as loved and developing a personal sexual iconology. The You Can't Please All (1981) seems to send a clear message. His characters grow in size, compared to their tiny representations during the Seventies, and move into the foreground of his compositions as seen in the pieces Seva (1986) or Yayati (1987).
Watercolour on paper is the technique Khakhar uses most during the Nineties, further accentuating the differences in size between characters in the same painting. The luminosity of his paintings from this period is striking, but would soon disappear when the artist, who develops cancer, resumes oil painting with a bloody and cruel theme. The contemptible subject is now the centre of a torn and melancholic universe as reflected in the works pieces Next Morning (2000), Blind Babubhai (2001) and Injured Head of Raju (2001) which close the exhibition.
Coinciding with this exhibition, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía exhibits at Espacio Uno the work of another renowned Indian artist Atul Dodiya, who is from the generation after Khakhar.
The Lowry Museum, Manchester (October 31, 2002 - January 5, 2003)
Reina Sofia Museum's Publications