In his most acclaimed piece (which the exhibition is named after), we see him from the back, naked, looking down on what he sees as a replication of an old folk’s tale that he saw with his own eyes where an old father is riding a donkey but people around condemn him since they claim that he wear the donkey down, and everyone is criticizing and nobody’s happy no matter who is on the donkey. Linking this tale with his homosexuality, he comes to the conclusion that ‘please all and you will please none!’ and decided to come out as openly gay on the canvas.
The naked man watching the scene from a distance is his self portrait, his nakedness visible to us the viewer but not to the world below his balcony. Meaning his authentic self was not presented to the outside world but it is presently visible to the viewer, a proclamation to the art-world of his sexuality.
His sexuality is not the only thing he reveals to the public. In this exhibition, he expresses a considerable amount of pain. His paintings became considerably hazy because of his cataracts, we see a portrait of himself with a multitude of arrows coming into his eyes. In addition there is also his own documentation of war, (his friends wounded), his own journey through cancer, (a considerably strong image He Took Enema Five Times A Day, a child assisting a man, which is him, a hose connecting from his anus to another bucket.), and his last painting ‘Idiot’ where he paints a very dark painting about the humiliation of old age. His pain is something he did not shy away from and tried to tackle in his art and although he is humorous and light hearted in some areas, he saw things for how they were. A life that that he endured himself of hard times.
Although much of his work is autobiographical, Khakhar is also fascinated with the life of the common Indian man. We see his ‘trade paintings’, where he has painted ordinary men in a small town in India, more humble subjects like the local barber, watchmaker, were beautified in sensitive and observant portraits, a man looking meticulously at his watch with only one light illuminating his view, many watches decorating the store, and a cigarette between his lips.
He’s interested in these men because outside of his world view, Khakhar enjoys exploring perspectives outside his own which is why his artwork is interesting. We view his art in the same way, to us, the viewer, he is outsider, opinionated and thoughtful. He is an Indian artist with perspectives that are important to understand as a minority. Bhupen Khakhar shows that he has an an unique world-view that is not common for the time and for the place, but also presents that he is just an ordinary man, an observer … just like the rest of us. And that is special, he shows that each of us, in our prime, might be the light of our own world, and to take joy in the silliness of daily life but not to dismiss the hard times ahead.
Bhupen Khakhar ‘You Can’t Please All’ is on at the Tate Modern until November 6th.