Bhupen Khakhar's unique and perceptive works have made him one of India's most revered contemporary artists. His international acclaim has seen his paintings and watercolors exhibited across the world, with solo shows at museums and galleries in Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Frankfurt, Vancouver, Delhi, and Mumbai, to name only a few. He was recently the subject of a major retrospective at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Renia Sofia, Spain and his group shows, including a 2001 exhibition at the Tate Modern, have placed him beside western masters like David Hockney, Sir Howard Hodgkin and R. B. Kitaj.
Khakhar's portraits of middle-class India are characterised by their complex spatial arrangements, bold use of colour, and dark humour. Man, animal and object are depicted with equal reverence and his works posses a strange sense of objectivity in their satire. Additionally, his works often represent people and their everyday lives, while doing so attempting to capture and reveal the vast loneliness experienced by these figures on canvas.
Enrique Juncosa in his essay, 'The Integrative Art of Bhupen Khakhar', identified two key factors adopted by Khakhar in his paintings. The first being that most figures painted by him were men and the second was to point out Khakhar's preference to paint scenes in open air. Through his paintings, Khakhar wanted his viewers to see him as he was. His bias towards depicting men came from him addressing his own homosexuality in his works while often portraying himself naked, alone or in erotic positions with other men.
In this painting, we find two anonymous figures riding an elephant in what appears to be a routine activity. While details of their facial features and clothes have been blurred, it is evident that these figures are men, with the man riding pillion holds on to the person in front in a semi -embrace. Khakhar draws our attention to this man, as he glows in soft tones of pink, perhaps alluding to himself as the pillion rider. Further, the inclusion of the second elephant also suggests the relevance of pairs, and the 'couple'.
As they travel upstream in the water, Khakhar successfully creates a sense of movement and Journey in the work. Juncosa, wrote on the artist's reference to travel, saying, "The settings - sea or river voyages, singular architectonic spaces which may become temples, lush vegetation, fountains-also hint at the importance of the sexual encounter depicted", going on to suggest that the artist has begun to move away from depicting social themes, to those of 'private fantasy'.