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Vivan Sundaram traces a tribute to late Bhupen Khakhar

Noted artist Vivan Sundaram has conceived a novel way of remembering his friend late Bhupen Khakhar. His new show is a tribute to this seminal artist, but the choice of technique for the show is intriguing. He is literally 'tracing' the memories of the maverick artist.

Vivan Sundaram employs process of tracing, which he describes as rather mechanical. The show has quite a peculiar title. The works in the new series 'Bad Drawings For Dost' puts together tracings of Khakhar's works into new ones.

This unconventional exhibition is on at Gallery Chemould, Mumbai. 'Bhupen (Khakhar)'s paintings are iconic, so I bring references to them.' He quips. What made Bhupen Khakhar one of India's most provocative and rebellious artists was his exploration of homosexuality.

The artist made a sincere attempt to delve into and simultaneously represent the world of homosexuals, as he perceived it. 'He had a quiet confidence to understand himself in relationship to what he painted,' Sundaram analyzes, as he puts together a collection of works in tribute to the controversial artist. This is not the first time that a show is being held to pay tribute to Bhupen Khakhar.

About 40 artists had come a couple of years ago to pay tribute to the late Bhupen Khakhar. They had in their works merged motifs from Khakhar's works with their personal vision, trying to delve into the enigmatic artist's inner world.

Incorporating small-town architecture, shadowed faces, peculiar use of shading, banal aspects of middle class life, Bhupen Khakhar, often called an iconoclast and a maverick, brought to his paintings amazing psychological depth with his sense of detail.

Vivan Sundaram makes another attempt to pay an artistic tribute to Bhupen Khakhar who has left an indelible mark on Indian contemporary art with his works, known for their kitschy colors. Even his series of paintings on communal violence in Gujarat in 2002 had kitsch elements like the plastic pink flowers, or the carvings and paintings found on mosques. "I think the biggest contribution that Indian art can make to international art today is the use of kitsch elements. Objects of popular art are so common in India, that to not use it in art and paintings is to deny a huge part of our artistic heritage and culture," the late painter had stated.

Vivan Sundaram has tried to bring to fore this aspect of Khakhar's art. The same kitschy colors are drained in works as part of this show by Vivan Sundaram who knew Khakhar for almost four decades. 'We shared studios and discussed our work. This exhibition is my continuing dialogue with him,' the former reminisces on eve of the show.

Vivan Sundaram himself has been one of India's premiere artists since the early 1960's. He studied painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University, Baroda. This was followed by a stint at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

He has selected tracing paper for its contrasting properties - even as it reveals, due to its opaque nature, it also conceals. 'It acts as a filter ' just like some memories are not very clear in your mind,' explains the artist who also has connected different elements in a work with strings. He elaborates these works are acts of erasure, by cutting up and re-pasting elements.

Vivan Sundaram has also tried to tinker with the titles of Khakhar's known works. For example, title to one of his works 'Please All Two Benares' is derived from the latter's 'Two Men In Benares' and 'You Can't Please All'.

Vivan Sundaram's 'Bad Drawings For Dost', a tribute to late Bhupen Khakhar, continues at Gallery Chemould, Mumbai till February 28, 2006.

View late Bhupen Khakhar's work in Saffronart catalogu

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