Past

Touched by Bhupen, 2013

 

Touched by Bhupen is a tribute to the visionary artist, Bhupen Khakhar, one of the most provocative and influential artists of his time. Born in Bombay in 1934, Khakhar spent most of his life in Baroda, where he passed away in 2003. His art, often narrative and autobiographical in form, reflected his sense of belonging and place in Gujarat. Rejecting the lofty ideals that pervaded attitudes towards contemporary art, he struck out on a unique path that would lead him to the interiors of middle-class India, replete with its complex social and sexual interactions that was considered too gauche a subject by the intelligentsia. As he peeled back the layers of this wondrous world – one that was his own – he revealed with a voyeuristic eye, his irreverent subjects unclothed, vulnerable and at their very essence, human.

His remarkable and prolific body of work, consisting of an idiosyncratic and self-taught style of painting that rejected esoteric themes in favor of depicting the lives of lay people, has inspired, cajoled and challenged artists – both his peers and younger generations – in its unflinching authenticity. His subjects were often locals he had seen on his daily walks and the friends who surrounded him in Baroda. It is this dedication to the common man’s realities that makes his oeuvre relatable, and profound. It’s no surprise then, that Khakhar has ushered in a posterity of artists who have all located a certain irrepressible spark in his body of work. Some of these artists have gleaned directly from Khakhar’s style or subject, while other have quietly absorbed its meaning and metaphor.

This unique exhibition invites a wide but careful selection of artists, working in a diverse spectrum of media, to engage in a personal response with Khakhar’s work. From established contemporaries of Bhupen’s, such as Sudhir Patwardhan and Gulammohammed Sheikh, to artists working with ordinary materials of the everyday (Shilpa Gupta / Subodh Gupta) to further still a new generation of figurative artists (Abir Karmakar / Varunika Saraf), the impetus is to open up new channels; for branches to twist and taper off in multiple new directions; to scatter new seeds. With the creation of this meaningful exchange, Touched by Bhupen hopes to provide a cornerstone for further overlaps to emerge between artists, and with Khakhar. It is a messy and voluminous endeavor that doesn’t seek to categorize, to sort or conclude. Instead, the exhibition draws in the viewer to interpret Bhupen’s legacy, ten years later…