Bhupen Khakhar was trained and fully accredited as a chartered accountant before he left his native Mumbai in 1962, moving to Baroda to become a painter. Over the following forty years, 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 characterized by their complex spatial arrangements, bold use of color, and dark humor. Man, animal and object are depicted with equal reverence and his works posses a strange sense of objectivity in their satire. Khakhar has a miraculous ability to dissect his surroundings, identifying the crucial elements in a scene and rendering each one individually while maintaining a sense of the cohesive whole.
The year 1979 marked the beginning of an important transition in both Khakhar's personal life and in his art. A trip to the painter Howard Hodgkin's vacation house in Bath, England, re-familiarized him with the British pop painters David Hockney and R. B. Kitaj whom he had admired during his days at the Baroda Art School during the 1960s. Apart from stylistic influences, the encounter with the openly gay Hockney introduced Khakhar to a new public attitude towards homosexuality that was increasingly tolerant. This experience, coupled with the traumatic but liberating death of his mother and a growing intimacy with his friend Vallavbhai, provided the necessary circumstances to begin the difficult process of publicly admitting his homosexuality. Khakhar's highly narrative paintings which before had scrutinized and recorded the life teeming around him slowly became autobiographical in their subject matter.
Khakhar explains that, "My interests have changed over the years, there was a time when I painted landscapes, with the human figure kept very small. Then came man and his environment; as a result, traders, barbers and tailors have long inhabited my painting. Now fantasy has entered my work, along with a certain spirit of freedomand my work is much less naturalistic." (Stated to Kamala Kapoor, The Economic Times, Sunday 17 March 1991.)
In effect, this important work from 1995 is a culmination of Khakhar's movement from depicting man's surrounding environment to his depiction of a more intimate and autobiographical space. Artist's Studio is, in effect, Khakhar's treatise on painting. His creative process is exposed not only in the rendering of his studio and tools, but in the depiction of the source of his subject matter, revealed in the fragments of painted life scattered around the room. In a way, these fragments or snapshots, pulled from the mind of Khakhar, become the puzzle pieces which form a finished work. The environmental scrutiny typical to his earlier works has indeed been loosened and fantasy, from the clichéd vacation seascape in the background to the surreal painting within a painting in the foreground, sets the tone of Artist's Studio. The characters from Khakhar's life are strewn around the image, with the dark figure in the foreground resembling Khakhar's lover, Vallavbhai, while a shadowed self portrait of Bhupen himself peers out from behind an obscured canvas. An interesting detail lies in the fact that, upon closer inspection, the painting on the easel appears more naturalistic then the supposedly more "realistic" studio setting around it. Looking carefully at the floor of the work, it seems as if the sea has spilled into the studio transforming the scatted sketches into floating objects, drawings of fish and boats finding themselves surprisingly at home. Perhaps Khakhar is expounding on the capacity of art and of his studio to both reflect and escape reality.