London’s Tate Modern shines the spotlight on late Indian artist Bhupen Khakhar

Although Indian painter Bhupen Khakhar was much appreciated during his lifetime, he seems to be garnering ever-increasing appeal since his death in 2003. The self-trained artist, who achieved artistic success relatively late in life, is the subject of a major exhibit at London’s Tate Modern. Running until November 6 and titled “You Can’t Please All,” this is the first international retrospective of Khakhar’s work since his death, and it’s made possible by the active support of Kiran Nadar, the famed Indian art collector whose eponymous museum in New Delhi is one of the city’s shining beacons of art.

Khakhar was born in 1934 in Bombay, and he lived in Baroda, where he also pursued a Master’s in Art Criticism at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Siyajirao University. To make ends meet, he worked part-time as an accountant, while trying to establish himself as an artist. Since the beginning of his artistic career, Khakhar was concerned with issues of social class and sexuality, and this concern was apparent in his early paintings, like The De-Lux Tailors (1972) and Barber’s Shop (1973), which both tried to capture the ordinary lives of the working class. Other works, such as 1975’s Man with a Bouquet of Plastic Flowers, hinted at what would become overtly provocative and sexual works, exploring and highlighting Khakhar’s homosexuality.

By 1981, when Khakhar created his iconic painting “You Can’t Please All,” the artist was addressing his sexual orientation in a personal way, trying to come to grasps with what it meant to be gay in India’s conservative society. This particular painting, depicting a naked man leaning on his balcony and looking at the townscape outside his flat, offers a uniquely colorful Khakhar blend of Bollywood and Western Pop Art, as the man appears to be reflecting on life and love after the end of a sexual tryst.

The comprehensive show at the Tate Modern features works that span five decades of the artist’s oeuvre, including oil paintings on canvas, watercolors and even ceramics. Highlights range from 1987’s Yayati, a frank but fantastical story of same-sex love, to Yagnya – Marriage, which was painted in 2000 and shows a traditional Indian village wedding celebration where the people getting married are both men.

The Khakhar exhibit is curated by Chris Dercon, director of Tate Modern, and assistant curator Nada Raza.