Bhupen Khakhar is one of those rare craftsmen who use their apparent inadequacies as their unique selling point. Indeed, his works are characterized by an irreverent confidence about his lack of formal training.
He was born in Bombay in 1934. A self-taught artist, Khakhar has evolved a mode of creative expression that is solely his. He was a qualified chartered accountant and yet he chose to move to Baroda in 1962 to join the Art Criticism course at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Within three years he held his first solo exhibition in Bombay.
Khakhar’s Early Work
Bhupen Khakhar’s early works were collage centric. He took readymade images of popular deities and painted over them. Such experimentations were never attempted before in Indian art and therefore his efforts did manage to create quite a stir in the art circles.
Khakhar’s preoccupation with the Unconventional
Khakhar as an artist seemed to be driven by the need to express his innermost feelings in his canvases, no matter how “deviant” the conventional society considered them to be. His interest in the unconventional forms of art made him explore the hybrid art cultures and traditions, that operates under the surface of classical miniatures and European illusionism. His paintings are characterized by a deliberate underplaying of the artists draughtmanship skills. His edgy compositions coupled with a deeply felt empathy with his subjects, who generally are misfits in their own social positions, make his paintings a potent comment on the duality of the Indian society.
Bhupen Khakhar manages to season his paintings by adding delightful instances of his sharp sense of observation. His ability to zero in on 'typical' characters that the observer can often locate within his/her own experience made his paintings wonderfully identifiable. His subjects are almost always marginal figures involved in acts that typify their position in the society.
Khakhar is also famous for having devised a way of painting the human body as a boneless mass of flesh, which seems not to be defined by a skeleton but by the personality of the subject. This particular aspect of his compositions also highlighted the vulnerability of his subjects.
His later experimentations with watercolors and ceramics were great successes.
Khakhar died on August 8, 2003 in Baroda, India, aged 69.