Bhupen Khakhar

India


He is remembered as an iconoclast and a maverick, a man who never did what was expected, and who was open about his views on everything – from social sectarianism to his own homosexuality, all of which are reflected in his works. Born in 1934, Khakhar began his career in art fairly late in life, at the age of 38. Then a practicing chartered accountant, he joined the M.S. University at Baroda to study art criticism in his late 1930s, and began his career as an artist creating collages from calendar art. He notes, “I was interested in the expressionistic style, which had no wit and humor. Now I am more involved in wit, painting people, and the environment around me.”

Khakhar received international acclaim as an artist much before he got recognition in India, when British artist Howard Hodgkin helped him organize a solo exhibition in the late 1970s. Among his inspirations, the painter counts British artist David Hockney. Like Hockney’s work, Khakhar’s own initial paintings revolved around the everyday, ‘insignificant man’ trapped in an unremarkable existence. Khakhar also worked with his contemporaries in Baroda like Gulammohammed Sheikh, to evolve a visual language that combined traditional Indian art elements with contemporary themes.

Khakhar’s exploration of homosexuality is quite evident in paintings like ‘You Can’t Please All’ and ‘Two Men in Benares’, prompting writer and painter Timothy Hyman, in his biography on Khakhar, to say, “He is possibly the most provocative painter in contemporary Indian art.” The artist elaborates: “I have chosen homo-eroticism as a theme because I am gay. What is happening in India-social rejection-did happen once in countries like USA and Europe. The police in all societies have beaten up gays and lesbians. But now they have been accepted by society. For me, there is nothing unnatural about homosexuality.

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