Review: Bhupen Khakhar

June 6, 2016
  • Rating: ★★★★☆
Tate Modern

This impressive collection of Bhupen Khakhar’s work is a personal journey through the life of India’s most revered pop artist. It flits from his wide-eyed early paintings of life on the subcontinent to his darker, more blurred work that grapples with his homosexuality (much of which was made when he suffered from cataracts), and ends with a chronicle of his protracted death from bowel cancer.

Khakhar is famous for his vivid oil paintings that flatten perspective and seem to suspend his subjects – often the working classes – in surreal expanses of colour. Nothing jostles for space: everything is compartmentalised, everything in its place, giving his work a sense of peace but also loneliness.

There’s real variety here: a collection of pieces that are either an homage to or pastiche of Hindu religious art, one featuring a man with five penises; some messy – and relatively unimpressive – ceramic busts; a droll portrait of a British man in a pub, in which the mundane and the exotic are flipped by the perspective of an outsider.

But his most interesting works are simple snapshots of Indian life; a man getting a haircut, a tailor cutting cloth, a window cleaner with a hose. They have more than a dash of Henri Rousseau’s garish, deliberate style, and an air of an Indian Lowry, recording the everyday. There’s a retiring, introvert quality to these pieces, but also a clear love for his homeland and an edge of satirical comment about the legacy of British colonialism.