Bhupen Khakhar : “You can’t please all”

The Tate Modern present the first international retrospective of Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003) since his death. Renowned for his vibrant palette, unique style and bold examination of class and sexuality, Khakhar played a central role in modern Indian art but was also a key international figure in 20th century painting. This exhibition will bring together the artist’s work from across five decades and collections around the world, including major works on canvas, luminous watercolour paintings and experimental ceramics.
He confronted provocative themes, particularly his homosexuality, with rare sensitivity and wit. Haunting portraits of ordinary men and last works describing his struggle with cancer express a rare humanity.
Bhupen Khakhar  You Can't Please All, 1981, © the estate of Bhupen Khakhar

You Can’t Please All, 1981, © The Estate of Bhupen Khakhar

Bhupen Khakhar American Survey Officer 1969 Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Bhupen Khakhar American Survey Officer 1969,  Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Khakhar was a self-trained artist, and started his career as a painter relatively late in his life. His works were figurative in nature, concerned with the human body and its identity. A self-professed homosexual,  the problem of gender definitions and gender identity were major themes of his work. His paintings often contained learned references to Indian mythology and mythological themes.
Bhupen Khakhar’s oil paintings were often narrative and autobiographical. His first exhibited works presented deities cut from popular prints, glued onto mirrors, supplemented by graffiti and gestural marks. He began to mount solo exhibitions as early as 1965. Though the artist had been largely self-taught, his work soon garnered attention and critical praise. By the 1980s Khakhar was enjoying solo shows in places as far away as London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Tokyo.
Bhupen Khakhar

Bhupen Khakhar

In the 1990s Khakhar began experimenting more with watercolours and grew increasingly confident in both expression and technique.  He found himself portrayed as “the accountant” in Salman Rushdie’s novel The Moor’s Last Sigh. Khakhar returned the favour by later making a portrait of the author that he called The Moor, and which is now housed within the National Portrait Gallery, London. In You Can’t Please All (1981; London, Knoedler’s) a life-size naked figure, a self-portrait, watches from a balcony, as father, son and donkey enact an ancient fable, winding through the townscape in continuous narration.


Tate Modern

Until 6 November 2016

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