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Inside the Factory of Fantasy

Influenced by 15th century Italian iconography and drawing on Renaissance and Baroque imagery, Shaw creates hyper-realist scenes with intricate details manipulating pools of enamel with a porcupine quill, writes Uma Nair.

Inside   the Factory   of Fantasy
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Born in Kolkata, raised in Kashmir, educated in the English art world, Gallery Whitworth at Manchester London, celebrates the intricate iconography of the brilliant Raqib Shaw as he depicts an array of rich fantasy worlds. They conceal an army of tormented, mischievous spirits running rampant amid nooks and crannies while he creates paradisal lush forests with growing vines and unusual creatures crawling, floating and punctuating the frame. To look at a work by Raqib Shaw is to be drawn into the squeak of chic.

This exhibition includes a series of paintings referencing, in part, Old Masters from the collections of the National Gallery, London, and Prado Museum, Madrid, as well as three new bronze sculptures that recall the style of the Renaissance Mannerist period. Shaw loves the National Gallery of Art in London and is known to spend many hours studying early works of Old masters.
Raqib Shaw is among those artists who can create his self-portrait and slip into one of his magnificent magical oils. An agile form and almond-shaped face in "Self-Portrait in the Studio at Peckham", is an uncanny creation. In this work Shaw is dressed in an ornamental, decorative kimono, with his head thrown back in ecstasy/prayer, surrounded by cavorting human/animal/mythical hybrids — skeleton-fairies, and seahorse-devils. Uncanny, how Shaw the artist casts himself as an oriental, modern St Jerome, meditating on palaces and pagodas in compositions echoing Old Masters at the National Gallery: perhaps Antonello da Messina, or even Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger.
Kolkata born Shaw who was raised in Kashmir moved to London in 1998 where he finished from Central Martins School of Art with a Bachelors and Masters in Art. He is known for a unique technique where pools of enamel and industrial paints are manipulated to the desired effect with a porcupine quill. While his works have intricate details and jewels there is a deeply sexual nature in his imagery.
Influenced by 15th-century Italian iconography and drawing on Renaissance and Baroque imagery, Shaw creates hyper-realist scenes with intricate details manipulating pools of enamel with a porcupine quill. He also studs the features with tiny rhinestones outlined in metallic paint. Shaw taught in London and took the art world by storm when his Garden of Earthly Delights was shown at MOMA in 2003. Three panels were made of synthetic polymer paint, glitter, stones, crystals, rhinestones, and gems on board.
After a Midsummer Night's Dream
Here at the Whitworth gallery, he has three sculptures, and four other works that read like a tapestry from the Renaissance filled with characters and narratives. Allusions from theatre and other writers, secret allegories of alchemy, frolics of fantasy that encode his self-portrait and bring in his Russell terrier, the paintings speak like a quilt of echoes relating to the past and the present.
His work After a Midsummer Night's Dream-is a whole eye-popping mass of sumptuous detail realised in a painstaking process reminiscent of the ancient enamelling technique known as cloisonné. Gold outlines are filled with enamel paint, which is manipulated with a porcupine quill to create a dense cameo-like effect. The work created as limited edition wall paper is drawing crowds of eyeballs.
The Adoration- Jean Gossart
Shaw creates his own version of The Adoration and he becomes the Madonna, instead of the infant Jesus he carries his Jack Russell, he presents a flashback of the Magi with the magnificently attired kings and attendants, the bystanders in the middle ground, the broken architecture and the flying angels. Gossart had adapted his figures of the Virgin and Child with his Balthasar and Melchior. Shaw presents the magi as hybrids-they have the heads of hyenas and bodies of humans, the angels are hovering parakeets.
Fascinated by Gossart's views through ruined ramparts to distant landscapes, Shaw extends the vista and opens up a vast recession towards the mountains in Kashmir seen across the distance. Shaw gives us a phantasmagoric panorama that merges his family's history in troubled Kashmir with elements of India's current politics reminiscent of Mark Antony's eulogy and the phrase 'dogs of war.'
Self Portrait in the studio at Peckham
In his self portrait at Peckhamwe see a skeleton and a rotund mirror amidst the extravagant artifice of Shaw's technique, which is based on Indian miniatures and ancient Asian cloisonné — a bonsai takes centre stage as flowering plants grow in profusion and we are made to think of Western traditions: Surrealism, Pop, Watteau's fêtes galantes, Shakespeare, Britten, and Wagner. Shaw loves dogs and he loves antiques and rugs and carpets, in an interview he said his family members were filthy merchants. His Jack Russell sits on the harmonium and a baby ram sleeps in the foreground. Skeletons hang and float while the ripples of animalia create a repetitive resonance even as the work throbs with rich patterning and opulent materials.
Shaw tells tales, his hallucinatory narrative drama is multifaceted as he combines the cultures of East and West in an extraordinary way. Underneath all the action there's incredible pain and a sense of loss, both personal and political, for Kashmir. His art is authentic and real and you recall his hatred for contemporary art. He takes a day to create 4 square inches of his fantasy factory on canvas.
Stylised Centaurs
Shaw's new bronze sculptures, are based on Mannerist sculpture, it references iconography from Classical Antiquity, it responds to the freedom, movement and exuberance of these forms and the conflation of internal and external modes of being. Shaw uses the lost wax casting technique, and use a patina which is exactly the same as that used by Renaissance sculptors. Small-scale and exhibited on plinths, they depict hybrids such as centaurs, in stylised, compositions, where figures are often erotically intertwined.
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