The first international retrospective of Indian modern master Bhupen Khakhar, which opened on Wednesday at London’s Tate Modern is already attracting eyeballs and rave reviews.
Titled ‘You Can’t Please All’, the exhibition presents the oeuvre of the artist from across five decades and collections around the world, including major works on canvas, luminous water colour paintings and experimental ceramics.
Much ahead of his time, Khakhar, a prominent figure in the 20th century art scene, never refrained from celebrating homosexuality and declaring himself to be one. “Yayati” (1987) depicts mythical figures in bold portrayals of same sex love. The large-scale diptych “Yagnya Marriage” (2000) shows a traditional celebration and feast in a small town with two men receiving a blessing, while smaller watercolours such as “Flower Vase” (1999) and “Grey Blanket” (1998) are more intimate visions of the same sex desire.
Curated by Chris Dercon and Nada Raza, the show is supported by New Delhi’s Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Deutsche Bank.
“We are extremely pleased to be part of this iconic show. His work is immensely significant in the pantheon of Indian art and we are delighted to be lending important works from the KNMA collection to the Tate show. KNMA is committed to showcasing the best Indian art around the world and also facilitate exhibitions of Indian artists to expose them to wider and more diverse audiences,” said KNMA chair Kiran Nadar.
Renowned for his vibrant palette, unique style and bold depiction of class, Khakhar’s early paintings showed the ordinary lives of workers and tradesmen, such as “The DeLux Tailors” (1972) and “Barber’s Shop” (1973).
His portraits capture the modern male with extraordinary pathos, echoed in the hollowed eyes and piercing gaze of “Hathayogi” (1978) or “Man with a Bouquet of Plastic Flowers” (1975).
The exhibition has seminal works like “Death in the Family” and “You Can’t Please All”, which portrays a naked man’s view of life from a balcony. This painting from his European days, could be interpreted as Khakhar’s awareness as a gay and the conflicts he faced at that time. Tate acquired this iconic painting in 1996. Khakhar’s work was shown in Six Indian Painters at the Tate Gallery in 1982 and in Century City at Tate Modern in 2001.
The exhibition also displays the artist’s exemplary journey, which boasts of diverse influences, from Indian miniature and devotional iconography to 14th century Sienese paintings and contemporary pop art. It shows how he evolved an engaging figurative style, part of a new wave of narrative painting and figuration that moved away from the modernist canon in vogue in Bombay (now Mumbai) and Delhi.
Finally, works such as “Bullet Shot in the Stomach” (2001) and “At the End of the Day the Iron Ingots Came Out” (1999) reflects his struggle with cancer. The last one in the exhibition, the small gold-hued painting “Idiot” (2003), combines beauty, rage and irony as one character laughs at another’s grimace of pain.
The exhibition is on till November 6.