Raqib Shaw: A Mythical Vision for Manchester

Contemporary-South Asian and British Art2
Self Portrait as Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) (2016)

Contemporary South Asian and British Art:

Kashmir-born artist Raqib Shaw creates fantastical worlds that draw on Eastern and Western fine art traditions. The connection to Hieronymous Bosch is obvious and much like the great 15th century master, there is much hidden meaning to be discovered in his rich and opulent paintings – as well as some eerie stuff going on too, but that’s the whole point. You have to look closely to get a sense of the madness and magnificence and it’s no wonder that Shaw’s influences draw from the artist grandeur of Holbein, Shakespeare, Wagner and even Dali – drama in the original sense of the word. Spot noble beasts (leopards, exotic birds and swans), malignant elves and evil fairies, and distorted mythical creatures in these incredibly intricate visual fairytales which depict the zoomorphic as you’ve never seen it before – the Jake and Dinos Chapman X Louis Vuitton collection has a few parallels but often Shaw casts himself as the protagonist. See him below as a blue faced St Jerome for instance. Sometimes he is maker of the surrealist meltdown that surrounds him; at other times, he is the victim or the witness. It’s hard to know what the message is at times in these works of great execution, because a lot of the iconography is so personal to the artist – Shaw usually features his pet Jack Russell in his paintings. But the sense of excess and destruction as well as the sublime (which itself points to peace and emancipation) are undeniably part of the rich tapestry of ideas that lie behind his oeuvre.

Shaw, who is a Central Saint Martins graduate (BA and MA), has enjoyed commercial success from the get-go. His first show in 2004 was at the Victoria Miro Gallery in London, just two years out of college. Part of his appeal is lies in the techniques he uses to  create his dizzyingly detailed scenes; techniques which like the landscapes he imagines, are rooted in the past. He often uses a porcupine quill to create Asian cloisonné (gilded outline) and metallic and enamel-based paints lend a 3D effect.

Shaw is also partial to semi-precious gems and rhinestones. In a word, these pictures really do pop and appeal to magpie-like collectors. You’re pulled back into old worlds: Art Nouveau as well as those associated with ancient Asian pottery. However, the subject matter shifts between the dark and dystopian to the optimistic and magical. It depends really what each ‘window’ reveals should you dare to look!

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Contemporary South Asian and British Art
Raqib Shaw’s ‘Self-Portrait in the Study at Peckham, after Vincenzo Catena (Kashmir Version)’ (2015) © Raqib Shaw/White Cube

Contemporary South Asian and British Art

Shaw’s incredible paintings (as well as his specially commissioned wallpaper) are about to go on display at The Whitworth, which is part of The University of Manchester from June 24th to November 2017; next year his pieces will travel to Bangladesh as part of Dhaka Art Summit in February 2018.

The exhibition forms part of an initiative supported by New North and South – a network of 11 art organisations from across the North of England and South Asia; a cultural network that was long overdue. The North and South celebrated shared heritage across continents and supports artists through a three year programme of co-commissions and exhibitions.

While the promise of this Bangladesh show sounds otherworldly in itself, the exhibition at the Whitworth will be no less exotic: Shaw’s paintings will be presented alongside some prized museum artefacts including a stunning gold and pink brocaded Kashmir shawl from the 19th century, a hand-knotted Persian hunting carpet from the early 20th century and many ancient Japanese silver and mother-of-pearl ornamental treasures. AZ

Contemporary South Asian and British Art
Raqib Shaw, Self Portrait in the Studio at Peckham Raqib Shaw, Untitled. (After Steenwyck the Younger) II, 2014-15.© Raqib Shaw. Photo: White Cube, Ben Westoby