A self-taught artist, Bhupen Khakhar was born in Bombay on the 10th of March 1934. Despite having been
qualified as a chartered accountant before moving to Baroda in 1962, he joined the Art Criticism course at
the Faculty of Fine Arts where he started painting and became involved with the seminal Narrative-
Figurative movement. Khakhar’s work has been characterized by a rare irreverence and a lack of inhibition
about his lack of formal training. Indeed, he has been able to evolve his own mode of address that harnesses
this lack of training to provide an edge to his expressions. His early work made use of ready-made images of
deities from popular oleographs which were collaged and painted over, sometimes with graffiti. Khakhar’s
interest in ‘degenerate’ forms of art led him to an exploration of artistic conventions in hybrid traditions that
operate in the interregnum between classical miniatures and European illusionism. A deliberate naivete is
visible in his paintings from the 1970s, coupled with a deeply felt sympathy with his subjects, who are often
ordinary folk caught in an existence they do not quite understand. There is also biting comment on the gentle
stupidity of the petit bourgeois life: a quality of being frozen in time permeates several of these
representations of common people in all their vulnerability. The vulnerability argument is taken a step further
in the early 1980s, when Khakhar’s homoerotic concerns come to be openly declared, often with selfreferential
figures. The 1980’s also bring a move away from the blown-up-picture-postcard painting to spatial
arrangements of greater complexity and articulation . Observation of the everyday plays an important role in
Khakhar’s work, and he is able to zero in on ‘typical’ characters that the observer can often locate within his/
her world. His way of rendering the body with an unusual pliantness, like a bone-less structure, highlights the
twin arguments of vulnerability and invisibility that he maintains.
He held his first solo exhibition in Bombay in 1965 and has had fourteen solo shows since in Bombay, New
Delhi, Baroda, London, Ahmedabad, Amsterdam, Den Haag, Paris and Tokyo. Khakhar has also been
widely represented in numerous group exhibitions including Art Now in India, London, Newcastle and
Ghent (1966), IX Biennale de Sao Paulo, and the First Triennale-India, New Delhi (1968), ‘Pictorial Space’,
New Delhi and Menton Biennale (1977), ‘Six who declined to show in the Triennale’, Ne Delhi (1978),
‘Narrative Painting’, London (1979), ‘Place for People’, Bomha (1981), ‘Six Indian Painters’, Tate Gallery,
London (1982), Contemporary Indian Artists’, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (1986), Document a IX,
Kassel (1992), ‘A Critical Difference: Contemporary Art from India’, UK (1993), Indian Songs, Sydney and
Amsterdam (1994) and Traditions/Tensions, the Asia Society, New York and tour 1996.
Khakhar’s recent forays into watercolor and ceramics reveal a great deal of freedom in handling the material.
Even in the occasionally macabre examples of his recent work, there is the evidence of joy and a sense of play
in dealing with the material.
Excerpt from the book Indian Contemporary Art Post Independence, Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, 1997, pg. 172