Bhupen Khakhar @ Tate Modern

I recently made a late night trip to Tate Modern. My list of things to see was probably half a mile long. The whole museum has been completely re-hung and one probably needs a week to explore it all fully. The display, which impressed me most however, is the current retrospective of late Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar.

The show is aptly titled ‘You Can’t Please all’, and this exhibition has received mixed reviews, however I thought it was fantastic. I hate the to use the word ‘exotic’ to describe non-EuroAmerican art, but that is the only way I can truly describe the vibrant, lux colours spread luminously across the artist’s canvases. Khakhar is a master colourist, using the most striking shades of blues and greens that I think I have ever seen in paint. Born in 1934 in Bombay, the artist started off as an accountant, painting on the side and didn’t give up accountancy until well into his 50’s.

Khakhar’s work is predominantly figurative and narrative. The artist tells stories with his work, exploring class, politics and sexuality. We are shown weddings, domestic scenes and nature. Included in some of the wall-text are clippings of the artist’s writings, which are extremely witty and add to the viewing experience of his paintings.

Khakhar’s homosexuality is prevalent throughout his oeuvre, with some quite explicit scenes of same-sex encounters on display throughout the last galleries. Of these, the most memorable is an image of two winged angel like men in an amorous encounter, caressing each other against a hot pink backdrop.

The show is extremely emotional and at times heart-wrenchingly sad. The final galleries give an honest look at Khakhar’s battle with cancer. In this room the previously bright colours begin to fade and the backdrops turn black and brown. Khakhar’s figures are shown with sunken eyes, holding guns with deteriorating internal organs. These images are shocking, powerful and incredibly brave.

This show will give you something you won’t expect, something you haven’t seen before. It may not be to your taste, however, it is an intriguing look into the work of an artist not often written about in the UK, and, even if you aren’t moved by it, as Khakhar rightly says you can’t please all.

Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All is on display at Tate Modern until 6 November


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Lizzy Vartanian Collier is a London-based writer and curator. She runs the Gallery Girl blog and has written for After Nyne, Arteviste, Canvas Magazine, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Ibraaz, Jdeed Magazine, ReOrient and Suitcase Magazine. Lizzy recently curated Perpetual Movement as part of Arab Women Artists Now (AWAN) Festival 2018 in London, which was featured in Vogue Arabia and The Art Newspaper.

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