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Bhupen Khakhar

Indian Modern Artist
Born 1934, Mumbai
Died 2003, Baroda, India
Lived and worked in Baroda, India

Bhupen Khakhar’s oeuvre is characterised by a strong narrative theme and bright kitschy colours. His primary interests in paintings veered towards exploring middle class subjects.  Eventually he explored his own sexual identity in his paintings, giving the subject of his works a radical impetus.



Master of Arts (Art Criticism), Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University of Baroda, India


Bachelor of Commerce, Mumbai University, Qualifies as a Chartered Accountant, Mumbai


Bachelor of Arts, Mumbai University, Mumbai


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Bhupen Khakhar uses an interesting blend of styles to exalt his ordinary subjects

Observation of the everyday plays an important role in Khakhar's work. By the 1970s Khakhar assumed the role of a chronicler of the oppressed, painting the 'insignificant man' trapped in an unremarkable existence. Through his remarkably vivid representation of tradesmen at work like tailors, barbers, watch repairers, Khakhar explored the quality of humanity and vulnerability in his marginalised subjects. He drew not only on a modernist Pop style, but also from the late eighteenth-nineteenth-century Indian tradition of Company painting, in his renderings of ordinary trade labourers. 

Bhupen Khakhar, De-Lux Tailors, 1972, oil on canvas, 43.6 x 34.4”

Bhupen Khakhar, Barber’s shop, 1972, oil on canvas

Exploration of homosexuality in his paintings made him a radical of his times

In the early 1990s, the artist began to incorporate his experience of homosexuality into paintings often with self-referential themes. You Can't Please All, 1981, is seen as the artist’s declaration of his homosexuality showing a self-portrait of the artist watching nude from his balcony an ancient fable of a father, son and a donkey being enacted before him in continuous narration. In Yayati, 1987, the myth of an ageing king who asks his son to give him the gift of his youth is given a superfluous sexual charge. Timothy Hyman argues that in exploring the themes of male sexual intimacy Khakhar has created “a new homosexual iconography, neither salacious nor voyeuristic, but embodying his own struggle to find freedom and autonomy within a sexual relationship.”
In Two Men in Benaras, 1982,Bhupen paints two naked men against the backdrop of the sacred Hindu city of Benaras (now Varanasi) in an erotic embrace, their erect penises almost touching. Sexual explicitness is seen as synonymous with a deepening of the spiritual self in Khakhar’s works.

Bhupen Khakhar, You Can’t Please All, 1981, oil on canvas, 66.8 x 66.8”

Bhupen Khakhar, Two Men in Banaras, 1982, oil on canvas

Bhupen Khakhar, Yayati, 1987, oil on canvas, 35.8 x 48”

His works are figurative in nature drawing attention to the human body and its identity

In the earliest stage of the artist's career, figures are designed and stylised in a manner akin to traditional and early modern Indian miniature painting. Later, he develops a way of rendering the body with an unusual plainness, like a bone-less structure with large heads, thin and stiff bodies wearing heavy clothing. The self-taught artist’s lack of formal training is evident in the the un-academic treatment of the figures in paintings Factory Strike, 1972, Man with Bouquet of Plastic Flowers, 1976, and Janata Watch Repairing, 1972.

Bhupen Khakhar, Janata Watch Repairing, 1972, oil on canvas, 36.8 x 36.8”

The bright palette incorporates the kitsch of India's urban centres into his images

His early work made use of ready-made images of deities from popular oleographs which were collaged and painted over and glued on to mirrors. Later, in the early 1970s he executed many paintings of middle class tradesmen at work while in the 1980s he moves away from the blown-up-picture-postcard painting to spatial arrangements of greater complexity and articulation like in In a Boat, 1984. However Yayati preserves some of the "popular" character of Khakhar's earlier work with its poster-like design of large-scale figures set against flat fields of bright colour, enclosed within a painted frame.

Bhupen Khakhar, In a Boat, 1984, 68.1 x 68.1”