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BHUPEN KHAKHAR (1934-2003)
Untitled (Ratnagiri)
signed and dated in Gujarati (lower right)
acrylic on paper
44¾ x 71¼ in. (113.7 x 181 cm.)
Executed in 2002
Sakshi Gallery, Mumbai
Mumbai, Sakshi Gallery, Landscapes, 2002

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Umah Jacob
Umah Jacob

Lot Essay

Trained and employed as a chartered accountant, Bhupen Khakhar was a largely self-taught painter whose artistic career did not begin in earnest until, well into his thirties, he moved from Bombay to Baroda. In Baroda, surrounded by artists and intellectuals like Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, “He arrived at a hybrid idiom, in which [Henri] Rousseau, [David] Hockney, Sienese pedellas, the oleographs of the Bazaar, the temple maps of Nathdwara and awkward observations of ‘Company’ painters, are all fused together. And with this idiom a new world opened, which no painter had ever dealt with before; the vast expanses of half-Westernised modern, urban India.” (T. Hyman, A Critical Difference, London, 1993, p. 3)

In this impressive work on paper, Khakhar returns to the seascapes and fishing communities that have found place in his work since the 1970s, including seminal paintings like Man Eating Jalebee (1974), In a Boat (1984) and Fishermen in Goa (1985). This particular panorama, painted in 2002, is inspired by the coastal district of Ratnagiri in Maharashtra. Under a sky full of menacing grey clouds, a group of sail boats loaded with the day’s catch have pulled into a cove along a sandbar populated by a stand of coconut palms and a solitary green mosque. Placing the viewer at a distance from the scene, the only figures visible are small silhouettes unloading the boats and untangling nets.

Khakhar, however, portrays larger, more detailed figures in the decorative red and gold dado with which he encompasses the landscape. Here, the men are out on the water fishing, hauling their nets to land, and laying out their catch to dry. Contrary in palette, mood and style from the painting it frames, the border offers a witty comment on the genre of landscape painting and its place in Khakhar’s essentially figurative, narrative idiom.

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