White Cube presents an exhibition of new work by Kashmiri-born, London-based artist Raqib Shaw. The culmination of several years of work, the exhibition will include paintings based on Old Masters from London’s National Gallery and the Prado in Madrid. These will be accompanied by new bronze sculptures which evoke the style and methods of the Renaissance Mannerist period. This is Shaw’s first solo exhibition in London since 2011 and his most autobiographical series of works to date.
In the ten paintings, Shaw borrows compositions from 15th, 16thand 17th century Old Masters including Girolamo Mocetto, Ludovico Mazzolino, Antonello da Messina, Carlo Crivelli, Marcello Venusti, Jan Gossaert and Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger. Shaw transposes and transforms the religious settings of the originals with images of his Peckham studio, the landscape of his childhood home in Kashmir, Hindu iconography, Japanese decorative arts and architecture.
Shaw appears as the main protagonist in the paintings in series of different guises; playing the joker, mime artist, or even the ghoul lying in a coffin. This is a world constructed entirely from Shaw’s imagination and delivered with an injection of macabre humour.
Included in the exhibition is Self Portrait in the Sculpture Studio at Peckham (After Mocetto)(2015-16). In this, Shaw peers around a column to the right of the composition, at the centre of his own fantastical universe. Colourful underwater scenes appropriated from Shaw’s earlier series of paintings the Garden of Earthly Delights (2002)* are seen, complete with fish, coral and other oceanic elements. In the distance, glimpsed beyond the structure of the Mocetto Renaissance buildings, a stylised landscape of waterfalls, rocks, irises and majestic pine trees recedes, as if collaged directly from a Japanese landscape painting. Elsewhere, in The Purification of the Temple (after Venusti) II (2014-15), Shaw borrows the Baroque architectural setting of Marcello Venusti’s work (1550), to create a technicolour stage for a dance by the Hindu God Shiva. By combining elements in this way, Shaw sets up several dualities: of heaven and hell, eroticism and restraint, transgression and punishment, using his own presence in the painting and in his own studio to suggest the canvas as a meeting point of reality and fantasy.
Shaw’s bronze works evoke Mannerist sculptures. The sculptures are executed with a lost wax casting technique, using a patina and finish which is exactly the same as that of Renaissance sculpture. Small in scale and presented on plinths, they depict complex, stylised forms such as hybrid animal figures and centaurs which are sinuous in shape and erotically intertwined. Technically masterful, Shaw’s sculpture suggests a narrative drama and sense of physical, tactile energy from whatever the angle that they are viewed.