A retrospective exhibition of paintings, watercolors, and prints by Bhupen Khakhar

The Guild Art presents Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003), a retrospective exhibition of oil paintings, watercolors, prints and ceramics by the late Bhupen Khakhar. The exhibition presents a portrait of the artist and his portfolio. The works included span Bhupen Khakhar's long career, the variety of media used demonstrating his enduring spirit of experimentation.

Born in Mumbai in 1934, Khakhar emerged on the Indian art scene in the 60s, distinguishing himself from prevailing trends through his enthusiastic embrace of a 'Pop' sensibility. A qualified chartered accountant, he moved to Baroda in 1962 at the suggestion of fellow painter and life-long friend G.M. Sheikh, completing a course in art criticism at the prestigious Faculty of Fine Arts, M.S. University.

His earliest exhibited works, shown at Gallery Chemould in 1965, incorporated the garish oleographs of deities into painted collages. These were strongly influenced by pop art and he drew on posters, collages and street art for inspiration. Among his inspirations, the painter counts David Hockney, the British master. Like Hockney's work, Khakhar's own initial paintings revolved around the everyday, 'insignificant man' trapped in an unremarkable existence.

Through the 70s, Khakhar focused his artistic lens on the everyday and mundane, sympathetically and sensitively capturing the many characters that populate urban India. A lot of his work done in the 70's is a depiction of trade, such as paintings of watchmakers, tailors and barbers. In the 80s, his work unapologetically presented the tribulations, intimacies and joys of gay life in India. An interest in the sacred returns in these later works, as the artist suggestively explored the ties between spiritual devotion and physical love. While the earlier work established his reputation in India, this work brought him widespread international acclaim.

His paintings in the last few years were more assured, more settled then what he describes as his "gay period'. He was quoted as saying: "I feel much lighter now. My personal tensions have been resolved." They also encapsulated themes like increased violence, or social commentary, addressing the tensions between Muslims and Hindus in Gujarat. Bhupen Khakhar was also a renowned writer. He spent his early life in a one room flat in a Mumbai chawl where he lived amongst the Gujarati community and their lives served him as an inspiration to turn to writing.

The artist worked with his contemporaries in Baroda like Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, to evolve a visual language that combined traditional Indian art elements with contemporary themes. Timothy Hyman, a personal friend of Khakhar's and an artist himself, penned a book that includes a history, an intelligent discussion, and lavish illustrations of the relevant part of Khakhar's work. Hyman, in his biography on Khakhar, titled 'Bhupen Khakhar' mentions: "He is possibly the most provocative painter in contemporary Indian art."

As an integral part of the 'Baroda School,' which included G.M. Sheikh and Vivan Sundaram, Bhupen Khakhar's work heralded the reemergence of the narrative and figurative in Indian art.

The retrospective exhibition of paintings, watercolors, and prints by the late artist from the Collection of Brian Weinstein continues at the Guild Art, New York, till March 31, 2007.

View Bhupen Khakhar's work in the Saffronart catalogue

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