MAS­TER STROKES

Lead­ing artists mark a decade with­out the colour­ful Bar­oda-based artist Bhu­pen Khakhar by cel­e­brat­ing his in­flu­ence in a new ex­hi­bi­tion

India Today - - THE ARTS - By Gay­a­tri Ja­yara­man

Hazel, Au­drey, Donna, Carla, Wilma, Rita and Ka­t­rina are not just names of the most dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­canes known to man. They are the painstak­ingly pen­cilled women— lips pursed, noses in­flated, with wild hair and broad, open faces— caught in var­i­ous states of sneez­ing, in 29- year- old artist Vidha Saumya’s seven panel portraits, her per­sonal trib­ute to the late artist Bhu­pen Khakhar. Saumya cre­ated th­ese works by imag­in­ing the gar­ru­lous Khakhar at a party con­fronting each of th­ese women and later re­count­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence with his leg­endary hu­mour and eye for de­tail. Bent over the un­fin­ished sketches ly­ing on a ta­ble at Ga­lerie Mir­chan­dani+Stein­ruecke in Mum­bai, the mother- daugh­ter gal­lerist duo, Usha Mir­chan­dani, 72, and Ran­jana Stein­ruecke, 54, mur­mur in uni­son, “Oh, Bhu­pen would have just loved this.”

The gallery, along with Max Mueller Bha­van, is host­ing a col­lec­tive ex­hi­bi­tion by 28 of In­dia’s top artists, from old friends such as Jo­gen Chowdhury, Vi­van Sun­daram, Sud­hir Pat­ward­han and Ghu­lam Mo­hammed Sheikh, to younger artists such as Saumya, Abir Kar­makar, Shilpa Gupta and Ran­bir Kaleka, some of whom have known Khakhar only through his art. ‘Touched by Bhu­pen’ shows Khakhar’s in­flu­ence, 10 years af­ter his pass­ing, on not just his peer group but also gen­er­a­tions be­yond.

Each artist has cre­ated new works for the show to chan­nel some part of Khakhar’s art: The hu­mour, por­trai­ture, colour, tex­ture, draw­ing from minia­ture styles or the theme of ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity. Ev­ery work en­larges on a sliver from ei­ther a pre­vi­ous work of Khakhar or from his life. “The thing about Bhu­pen is that there was so much to him that ev­ery artist views him or ap­pro­pri­ates him through his own prism,” says Mir­chan­dani,

who held the first ret­ro­spec­tive of Bhu­pen’s work at the Na­tional Gallery of Mod­ern Art in 2003, shortly af­ter he died of can­cer that year at the age of 69.

Artist Ghu­lam Mo­hammed Sheikh, 76, on whose per­sua­sion Khakhar moved to Bar­oda to join the art move­ment there, spent 50 years work­ing with him. “Bhu­pen's body of work had a di­verse ori­en­ta­tion. He ad­dressed is­sues vi­tal to our lives even to­day, like gay sex­u­al­ity,” Sheikh says.

When Ti­mothy Hy­man, a Bri­tish fig­u­ra­tive artist, wrote a book on Khakhar in 1998, he called the artist’s com­ing out of the closet in the 1980s “the most courageous act of his life”. “He found him­self speak­ing for a class and a world hith­erto un­re­garded, un­recorded,” writes Hy­man. The act gave Khakhar a new lan­guage which in­formed his great­est works that de­picted ho­mo­sex­ual re­la­tion­ships such as Two Men in Ba­naras ( 1982), Seva ( 1986), Man Wear­ing Red Scarf ( 1981) and Yay­ati (1987). He trans­lated onto can­vas the nu­ances of re­la­tion­ships be­tween men, men and so­ci­ety, men and the neigh­bour­hood, and men and self. That he could do this hon­estly and sen­si­tively was his great­est achieve­ment. Art his­to­rian Shivaji Panikkar called Khakhar “the first In­dian artist to make use of In­dia’s un­der­val­ued, hy­brid vis­ual cul­ture”. He equally pulled in the pop influences of the 1960s. When he was ousted from J. Swami­nathan’s ‘ Group 1890’ ex­hi­bi­tion in 1963 for be­ing “too kitsch”, art critic Geeta Ka­pur pro­claimed him a great avant garde artist of his time. Khakhar’s re­sponse was to mix na­tive and Euro­pean el­e­ments. By the time he came up with You Can’t Please All in 1981, he was al­ready much feted.

Khakhar was fa­mously dis­trust­ful of art as a pro­fes­sion and con­tin­ued his day job of a prac­tis­ing char­tered ac­coun­tant till very late in life, which earned him the char­ac­ter of ‘ the ac­coun­tant’ in Sal­man Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh. As Rushdie de­scribes him: “… and the Ac­coun­tant. It was the last of th­ese— the artist who is with­out doubt the present- day in­her­i­tor of Aurora’s fallen man­tle— who adopted Aires: a forty­ish floppy- haired fel­low he was then, wear­ing huge glasses with lenses the size and shape of por­ta­ble TVs, and be­hind them an ex­pres­sion of such per­fect in­no­cence it im­me­di­ately made you sus­pi­cious of a prank.”

While Khakhar’s dar­bar in Bar­oda at­tracted Rushdie and Sheikh, it also drew the de­liv­ery boy and the gar­dener, say friends. Vi­van Sun­daram, 70, in Delhi, says, “Over time, Khakhar be­came a guru-style cult fig­ure by speak­ing about that which was re­pressed, with ex­tra­or­di­nary sen­si­tiv­ity and hu­mour. He built an adda around him so when I brought the artist Howard Hodgkins to meet him, he ex­erted his in­flu­ence on him as well.”

Khakhar’s per­sonal style was in­clu­sive. He would paint in the liv­ing room, among peo­ple, his lover and long-term part­ner Val­larb­hai seated cross-legged there, the cricket com­men­tary con­stantly on, and Khakhar

POSTMORTEMGAGAWAKA,

(ABOVE) VI­VAN SUN­DARAM’S TRIB­UTE TO KHAKHAR; (RIGHT) GHU­LAM MO­HAMMED SHEIKH’S REN­DI­TION OFYAYATI,HIS FIRSTATTEMPTATA FULL-SCALE SCULP­TURE

Www.in­di­a­to­day­im­ages.com

KHAKHAR MIXED IN­DIAN AND EURO­PEAN EL­E­MENTS

SHAILESH RAVAL/

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VI­VAN SUN­DARAM, 70 Artist, Khakhar’s friend

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There was a com­plex gen­eros­ity and hu­man­ity in his work. He spoke in many reg­is­ters. But above all, he was Dost.

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GHU­LAM MO­HAMMED SHEIKH, 76 Artist, Khakhar’s friend

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AU­DREY, Fol­low the writer on Twit­ter @SellingVi­o­lets

ONE OFVIDHA SAUMYA’S SEVEN INK-ON-PA­PER PORTRAITS OFKHAKHAR’S WOMEN FRIENDS let­ting out a steady flow of his wit and hu­mour. “I am the best In­dian artist,” he would say with­out be­ing disin­gen­u­ous. Sun­daram re­calls: “There was a com­plex­ity, hu­man­ity, gen­eros­ity in his work that reached across.” Sun­daram, who did a se­ries called Bad Draw­ings for Dost in an ear­lier colour­less trib­ute to the colour­ful Khakhar, this time went to stores sell­ing med­i­cal anatom­i­cal fig­ures and used the fig­urines to cre­ate Post­mortem Gaga Waka, a play on Khakhar’s five penises in the wa­ter­colour An Old Man from Vasad Who Had Five Penises Suf­fered From A Runny Nose (1995). One of Khakhar’s most mem­o­rable works, this is also the in­spi­ra­tion for 37-year-old Mum­bai-based artist Shilpa Gupta.

While Khakhar’s paint­ings in­flu­enced some artists di­rectly, el­e­ments from his art as a whole en­gage oth­ers, es­pe­cially the younger gen­era- tion. Take, for in­stance, Varunika Saraf, the 31-year-old Hy­der­abad­based artist, who has done a large paint­ing and a small se­ries of 19 draw­ings em­bel­lished with glass beads. Saraf says her in­spi­ra­tion has been the colours Khakhar used and the spe­cial de­vices in his minia­ture paint­ings, apart from his hu­mour. “I’ve drawn from his early paint­ings such as Parsi Fam­ily and In­de­pen­dence Day, and my paint­ings are also a com­ment on how the spa­ces Bhu­pen oc­cu­pied, such as Bar­oda and Mum­bai, have changed.”

As the years since Khakhar’s pass­ing lengthen, his tribe, of young artists in­flu­enced by his art, in­creases.

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