Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Bhupen Khakhar at Tate Modern

There's a small exhibition of paintings by Bhupen Khakhar at Tate Modern at the moment called 'You Can't Please All'. I'd not heard of Mr Khakhar before and didn't know what to expect and I'm still not really sure what I've seen at this exhibition.

It's the first international retrospective of his work since he died from cancer in 2003 (and his paintings trying to depict his experiences during cancer are painful to see). I've been to this exhibition twice because I couldn't decide whether I liked the paintings - or whether they were good - on the first visit. And I still can't.

They're narrative paintings and tell a story, whether a re-telling of an old Indian yarn, tales of village life or being gay in India today. There are also hints at public and private life such as in the painting above of the man on the balcony - to the world on the other side of the balcony he's bare-chested and probably wearing a dhoti but we can see that he's actually naked. Just why he's naked I have no idea.

There are quite a few naked men in his paintings, often aroused and inter-generational like in this painting. The large couple are clearly the most important in this painting, but are we seeing the result of the story? do all the smaller images lead up to this larger image? Or are they all disconnected and random? Are they lovers or is this a business transaction with the younger man being a masseur? Who knows.

Most of the paintings use very vivid colours (that don't really come across in the images for this blog) and the figures are quite stylised and often quite awkwardly posed. I can't quite work out why this should be other than the artist was trying to create a style or an image for his work. I'm not sure it works.

A painting I did like was one he did based on a short stay in Britain in the late 70s, called, I think, 'Man in a Pub'. There is the man sitting in his coat, drink in hand, with other images of random men to his left. And sitting right between his legs is his hand holding his limp driving gloves, an image of impotence compared to the other phalluses in some of his other paintings if ever there was.  Maybe there's a not so subtle message here for the former rulers of empire?

As I said, I can't decide if I like these works - go along to Tate Modern and decide for yourself.

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