On the painting Timothy Hyman, close friend of the artist and author of the monograph Bhupen Khakhar, 1998, comments:
“In this striking image, the 35 year-old Bhupen Khakhar has begun to discover his own consciously "hybrid " identity : East and West both juxtaposed and fused within a seriocomic vision. For several years he'd derived inspiration from Indian popular art, delighting especially in the "debased" and stereotyped versions of once-high genres; in this case , the heavy greens and gorgeous leaf- and -flower imagery of Pichwai, paintings on cloth associated with the Krishna-cult of Nathdwara. Although Bhupen would later make several pilgrimages to the Rajasthani temple-town, and become friendly with its surviving painters, at this point he was content with the modern generic and commercial pichwais he encountered in local travelling- tent exhibitions.
But the foliage of American Survey Officer owes even more to Bhupen's passionate identification with Henri Rousseau, whose jungle images such as The Hungry Lion (1905) portray each separate leaf with a loving intensity. Like so many earlier twentieth century painters, including Leger and Beckmann, Bhupen found in Rousseau a guide to a new kind of figuration, which had no taint of academic naturalism. As a largely self-taught painter, Bhupen found his art unintimidating : " I felt very much at ease with his work. Rousseau was not doing academic drawing. Because of my awkwardness I could relate to him." It was Rousseau above all who would lead Bhupen away from the bravura posturing of his earliest semi-abstract icons, towards a more vulnerable language of representation, side-stepping the oppressive codes of style - of historical and cultural placing, of class and caste.
Inserting Rousseau's innocent exoticism within his kitsch version of the pichwai paradise, Bhupen creates a parody-sublime. Sometimes dubbed "The Indian Hockney '" , he is still a child of Pop; a few months later, he will mock himself as a "Jukebox Rousseau ". The grandeur of the landscape is undermined by the bathos of that incongruous helicopter; the three figures in their Western dress (Bhupen himself on the left, the nearly blind Shankarbhai Patel on the right , flanking their occidental visitor) are made to appear diminished, inconsequential.”
With thanks to Timothy Hyman for his assistance in the preparation of the catalogue note.
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