Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All at Tate Modern from 1st June to 6th November 2016

Exhibition Review – Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All at Tate Modern from 1st June to 6th November 2016


The Tate Modern present the first international retrospective of Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar (1934-2003) since his death. The exhibition bringing together 5 decades of his paintings, watercolours and experimental ceramics from collections around the world.

Khakhar was born in Bombay, but lived for much of his life in Baroda where he initially worked as an accountant until he reached his thirties when his artistic career became more fully established. Khakhar’s early paintings often depicted the ordinary lives of workers and tradesmen, such as The De-Lux Tailors and Barber’s Shop 1972.


As his artistic career developed, Khakhar began using influences from Indian miniature painting traditions and contemporary Western pop art. He evolved a figurative style that was part of a new wave of narrative painting and figurative art in India that often used the boldness of Western pop art to tell distinctively Indian narratives. Khakhar was part of a small community of artists and writers in Baroda where his home became a gathering place to meet and exchange ideas. After he had visited Europe where Khakhar spent six months as artist-in-residence at the Bath Academy of Art, he returned to India to paint his best known work You Can’t Please All 1981, which depicts a life-size naked figure on a balcony watching characters from an ancient Aesop fable.


This painting comments on a particular Indian scene but also addresses Khakhar’s ‘coming out’ as a gay man and suggests some of the difficulties he had to face at the time. In the 1980s, Khakhar began to earn a reputation outside of India with shows in London, Berlin, Amsterdam and Tokyo and his work became increasingly narrative and in many ways autobiographical.


Khakhar began to explore portrayals of same-sex love often in the shapes of mythical figures, works like Yayati 1987, Yagnya – Marriage 1999, Flower Vase 1999 and Grey Blanket 1998 explore some of these themes.


A residency in the Netherlands in 1994 led to the artist experimenting with ceramics, the exhibition displays a number of these works including rarely seen sculptures of his long term partner. When Khaktar suffered from cataracts in the 1990s, his interest in storytelling developed and he wrote and illustrated a number of books including one for Salman Rushdie.


Towards the end of the 1990s, Khaktar was diagnosed with prostrate cancer and works such as Bullet Shot in the Stomach 2001 and  At the End of the Day the Iron Ingots Came Out 1999 display some of the grim realities of living with his illness in graphic detail. The mixture of dark humour and pain is best displayed by the painting Idiot 2003, completed just before the artists death.


Khaktar’s work has often been compared to Henri Rousseau and David Hockney, however although Khaktar was probably influenced by their work, he managed to develop his own unique style which was rooted in the stories and people of India. Even the artist’s work on homosexual themes is from a distinctively Indian perspective. Ironically many Indian Galleries would not display much of Khakhar’s work for being too sexually explicit.


This exhibition introduces the work of Bhupen Khakhar to a wider audience and offers the opportunity for many to discover the work of an artist who is considered a key figure in modern Indian art and also an important international figure in 20th century painting.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

Bhupen Khakhar: You Can’t Please All Exhibition

Tate Modern – 1st June to 6th November 2016


Adult £12.00 (without donation £10.90)

Concession £10.50 (without donation £9.50)

Under 12s Free (up to four per family adult)

For more information or to book tickets, visit the Tate Modern website here

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