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Messages from Bhupen Khakhar

"Good taste can be very killing": personal reflections from the self-trained Indian painter.

Documentary 1983 37 mins


Self-trained Indian painter Bhupen Khakhar reflects on his modest life and flamboyant work in this colourful Arts Council documentary. Khakhar blossomed as an artist relatively late in life, painting on the side while working as an accountant in the Gujurat city of Baroda, now Vadodara. His vibrant studies of everyday life in provincial India drew inspiration from mass-produced imagery, pop culture and the tradesmen beavering away around him. Openly homosexual, Khakhar was an unlikely pioneer, tackling repressed middle-class attitudes to gender and sexuality which he saw in Hindi films and wider Indian culture.

Khakhar's work, with its bright, bold, figurative style, has always attracted a degree of controversy beyond its gay content. Though he had found considerable international success by the 1980s, his early work proved a hard sell on home turf, dismissed as "vulgar". Echoes of art world snobbery lingered beyond Khakhar's death in 2003, with a major retrospective at Tate Modern in 2016 coming under fire from some quarters. Khakhar himself would likely remain unruffled by establishment scorn, and the film references a favourite mantra: "Good taste can be very killing".