BHUPEN KHAKHAR (1934-2004)
BHUPEN KHAKHAR (1934-2004)


BHUPEN KHAKHAR (1934-2004)
signed and dated in Gujarati (lower left)
acrylic on board
21 ¼ x 15 1/8 in. (54 x 38.4 cm.)
Painted in 1997
Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner, 1997

Lot Essay

Bhupen Khakhar's unique idiom and perceptive works have made him one of India's most well-known contemporary artists. His paintings have been exhibited across the world to great critical acclaim, with solo shows at museums and galleries in Berlin, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, Madrid, New York, Vancouver, New Delhi and Mumbai, and the recent retrospective Bhupen Khakhar – You Can’t Please All at the Tate, London, in 2016.

Khakhar's portraits of middle-class India are characterized by their complex spatial arrangements, bold use of color and dark humor. Amused by petit bourgeois morality, the artist took pleasure in distorting traditional Indian iconography to create images that contained a satiric double discourse. Talking about the designs he created for the very provocative play Maujila Manilal in 1989, he confessed to this character trait, saying, “I am somewhat of an iconoclast. In 1965 I had taken oleographs of divinities from popular calendars and stuck them on to canvas and painted over them. That upset people, I think. To them, gods are sacrosanct. My play refutes that. I have shown that it rains in the fields of Badman as well as Goodman – the gods don’t make any distinction here. Good deeds don’t get you a place in heaven. The gods decide that – with a roll of the dice.” (Artist statement, M. Sharma, The Wordsmiths, New Delhi, 1996, p. 71)

In the present work, Khakhar borrows erotic imagery from the carvings found at ancient Indian temples in Nanjangud and Khajuraho to underline the normalcy, if not innocence of such sexual representation. Sketched in a few strokes of bold color, this almost acrobatic scene illuminates the artist’s exploration of various visual and iconographic devices to shake up the counterfeit prudishness he saw in contemporary Indian society. In his opinion, this was a direct effect of colonization. He noted that it was the “British Raj and the Victorian inheritance that has made us timid. At a certain stage in our history, the British made us feel ashamed of our own sexuality and made us feel inferior because our society’s traditionally more open approach to body and sex. This has now made us into a nation of hypocrites and we don’t want to be who we are. It will take many years to outgrow this.” (Artist statement, S. Menon, The Hindu Magazine, 14 September 2003)

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