Bhupen Khakhar was born in Bombay in 1934. He was a self- taught artist, having qualified as a chartered accountant before moving to Baroda in 1962 to join the Art Criticism course at the Faculty of Fine Arts. It was here that he started painting and became involved with the seminal Narrative Figurative movement.
He held his first solo exhibition in Bombay in 1965 and has had several solo shows thereafter, in Bombay, New Delhi, Baroda, London, Ahmedabad, Amsterdam, Den Haag, Paris and Tokyo. Khakhar has also been widely represented in numerous group exhibitions including Art Now in India, London, Newcastle and Ghent (1966), IX Biemale de Sao Paulo, and the First Triemale - India, New Delhi (1968), Pictorial Space, New Delhi, and Menion Biennale (1977), Six who declined to show in the Triennale, New Delhi (I978), Narrative Painting,London(1979), Place for people, Bombay (1981), Six Indian Painters, Tate Gallery, London (1 982), Contemporary Indian Artists, Center Georges Pompidou, Paris (1986), Documenta IX, Kessel (1992), A Critical Difference: Contemporary Art from India, UK (1 993), India Songs, Sydney and Amsterdam (1 994) and Traditions/Tensions, the Asia Society, New York and tour, 1996.
Khakhar's work has been characterized by a rare irreverence and a lack of inhibition about his lack of formal training. Indeed, he evolved his own mode of address that harnessed this lack of training to provide an edge to his expressions. His early work made use of ready-made images of deities from popular oleographs which were collaged and painted over, sometimes with graffiti. Khakhar's interest in 'degenerate' forms of art led him to an exploration of artistic conventions in hybrid traditions that operate in the interregnum between classical miniatures and European illusionism. A deliberate naiveld is visible in his paintings from the 1970s, coupled with a deeply felt sympathy with his subjects, who are often ordinary folk caught in an existence they do not quite understand. There is also biting comment on the gentle stupidity of petit bourgeois life: a quality of being frozen in time perineates several of these representations of common people in all their vulnerability.
The vulnerability argument is taken a step further in the early 1980s, when Khakhar's homoerotic concerns come to be openly declared, often with self-referential figures. This decade also brought a move away from the blown-up-picture- postcard painting to spatial arrangements of greater complexity and articulation. Observation of the everyday played an important role in Khakhar's work, and he was able to zero in on 'typical' characters that the observer can often locate within his/her own experience. He seems to have taken on a project of devising a way of representing the marginal seeking to show that which is always there, but never gets looked at. Khakhar devised a way of rendering the body with an unusual plainness, like a bone-less structure, that highlights the twin arguments of vulnerability and invisibility that he maintains. His foray into watercolors and ceramics revealed a great deal of freedom in handling the material. Even in the occasionally macabre examples of his later work, there is the evidence of joy and a sense of play in dealing with the material.
Bhupen Khakhar passed away in 2003 and has recently been the subject of a major retrospective at the Tate Modern in London.