Let me count the ways
A note on the exhibition, Touched by Bhupen
Most artists who spark off revolutionary ways of making art carry themselves with self-regarding seriousness. Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003) was an exception. From his earliest appearance on the art scene, his style was associated with wry self-irony, playful high colour, social satire, and an unembarrassed embrace of popular culture. Khakhar's high-spirited performance of artist-as-not-quite-Everyman was sustained, however, by his warm, quirky empathy with the human animal in all its passionate vulnerability; as well, by his awareness of anguish, loneliness, and the melancholia of those disenfranchised for reasons of taste, class or life choice.
Khakhar touched the lives of his fellow artists in many ways. He was a leading member of what has come to be known as the ‘Baroda group, a constellation of artists based in Baroda, Bombay, Delhi and elsewhere, which emerged as a powerful avant-garde formation in Indian art during the 1970s. These artists emphasized local and immediate experience, especially the everyday life of the middle class and the proletariat, as their subject matter. At the same time, several of them translated, into contemporary expression, references they found in such art-historical sources as the frescos of Sienna, and Mughal and Rajput miniatures. In this artistic milieu, Khakhar became celebrated for his seemingly whimsical yet deeply moving portraits of inner-city and provincial middle-class life, rendered in an idiosyncratic palette of cyan, pink and green, suggestive of the popular arts of the movie poster and the store signboard.
During the 1970s, Khakhar established himself as a connoisseur of kitsch, a status enhanced by his gift for presenting himself to the public through exuberant performative gestures: one of his exhibition invitation cards showed him costumed as a James Bond from Kalbadevi. During the 1980s, he went on to inaugurate another revolution. Gradually emerging from the closet, he became the first openly gay Indian artist, addressing the everyday life, emotional states, fantasies, anxieties and aspirations of the homosexual self in his paintings. Another constituency opened up within the Indian art world: those who had been marginalized by social mores, excluded from the prevailing culture's definition of normality.
Touched by Bhupen is an exhibition that commemorates Khakhar's work and continuing relevance on the tenth anniversary of his death. It brings together works specially made for the occasion by 26 artists whose lives have been touched by Khakhar in some way, whether they were friends and colleagues from his own circle or younger contemporaries who find inspiration in his high-spirited, witty, fabular adventures of the imagination. Touched by Bhupen celebrates Khakhar's spirit of restless exploration, his buoyantly transgressive energy, and his ability to find common ground with a wide range of fellow practitioners.
Among the artists participating in Touched by Bhupen are Francesco Clemente, Subodh Gupta, Vivan Sundaram, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Atul Dodiya, Nilima Sheikh, Gieve Patel, Sudhir Patwardhan, Anju Dodiya, Shilpa Gupta, Nalini Malani, Nataraj Sharma, Ranbir Kaleka, Ram Rahman, Abir Karmakar, N S Harsha, Sudarshan Shetty, Amit Ambalal, Dilip Ranade, Jogen Chowdhury, K P Reji, Ratheesh T, Sharmistha Ray, Varunika Saraf, Vidha Saumya, and Vinod Balak.