My interests have changed over the years, there was a time when I painted landscapes, with the human figure kept very small. Then came man and his environment, as a result, traders, barbers and tailors have long inhabited my painting. Now fantasy has entered my work, along with a certain spirit of freedom and my work is much less naturalistic. BHUPEN KHAKHAR
BHUPEN KHAKHAR (1934-2003)

Untitled (Image in Man's Heart)

BHUPEN KHAKHAR (1934-2003)
Untitled (Image in Man's Heart)
Signed and dated in Gujarati (lower centre)
acrylic and oil on canvas
36 x 30 Inches (91.4 x 76.2 cm.)
Painted in 1999
Gallery Espace, New Delhi
Acquired from the above in 1999
Bhupen Khakhar, exhibition catalogue, Madrid, 2002, p. 93
Madrid, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Renia Sofia, Bhupen Khakhar, July-September 2002


The work of Bhupen Khakhar is inextricably linked to his own background and sexuality, himself marginalized as an urban lower-middle class homosexual in India. A pivotal moment in Khakhar's artistic career that forever changed his attitude and practice, personally and artistically, followed a trip to the British painter Howard Hodgkin's vacation house in Bath, England, in 1979. Stylistically he finally accessed first-hand the work of British Pop artists David Hockney and R.B. Kitaj, who he had long admired. Perhaps more significant was that the openly gay Hockney introduced Khakhar to a new public attitude towards homosexuality that was increasingly tolerant and accepting. This experience, coupled with the traumatic but liberating death of his mother and a growing intimacy with his friend Vallavbhai, provided the necessary circumstances to begin the difficult process of publicly admitting his homosexuality.
Since the 1980s his art become compulsively autobiographical in import using his own image as an interlocutor for both himself and others also marginalised and disenfranchised in society. Untitled (Image in Man's Heart) is painted twenty years after his seminal holiday in Britain, but its influence resonates with relevance as it typifies these sentiments. Prominently anchoring the canvas is a larger than life naked self-portrait, yet far from crude, the figure is both intimate and confessional. Many of the surrounding men, including those appearing from within the artist's torso, are iterations of Khakhar's own instantly recognisable portrait. He repeats his image several times using it as a module, a building block so as to universalise himself, literally representing the common, every day man. The gazes of these on looking men converge upon the central blue naked figure; and Khakhar leaves it unclear whether they are joined in judgement, acceptance or even adoration. It is this vulnerability and empathy with the human condition and social mores that set his work apart.

"It is this quality of humanity and vulnerability, an understanding of, an empathy with an alternate reality that makes Khakhar's work so distinct from that of Hockney to whom he is frequently compared. His concern was with men alone, Khakhar's concern seems to be as much the men as the metaphysics of their condition. "Hockney is concerned with physical beauty. I am much more concerned with other aspects like warmth, pity, vulnerability, touch [...]"" (S. Mehra, 'An Accountant of Alternate Reality', Outlook India, 13 December, 1995)

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