Friday, February 8, 2013

Understanding Raqib Shaw's art practice

Born in Kolkata, Raqib Shaw belongs to a family of carpet makers and shawl traders from Kashmir. The strife-torn scenic landscape and his ancestry have greatly shaped the richly layered exquisite paintings by him. His passion for art took him to London, where he studied at Central St Martins School of Art. A series of international shows brought him to limelight.

For example, his spectacular and visionary paintings displayed at the Museum of Modern Art, New York and a solo show at the Tate Britain enhanced his reputation as a world-class artist. When he arrived in London, the first Western painter he encountered was Hans Holbein, who incidentally inspired this body of work.

The talented artist's earlier series ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’ also received immense critical acclaim. The erotically charged works courtesy Victoria Miro were inspired by Hieronymous Bosch’s 15th century triptych. The artist depicted a dizzying scenario of erotic hedonism, both gruesome and explosive in its debauchery. It was a fantastical underwater world full of mythical creatures populated with hybrid creatures and fusing a wide array of fabulously painted flora and fauna.

The works from this series commanded astounding attention and prices internationally. A painting from it fetched Rs 19 crore at a 2007 Sotheby’s auction in London. Other small size works subsequently went for Rs 1.27 crore (Sotheby’s, February 08) and Rs 4 crore (February 2010, Christie’s). Raqib Shaw's another significant show, entitled ‘Absence of God’, at White Cube, London (2009) focused on the peculiar ‘presence of absence’ felt by many intellectuals, often leading to a fear of the void. The concept spurred the restless artist to fill that void and create a fantastical imagery.

Putting his ideas in perspective, reviewer Norman Rosenthal of the UK Telegraph had noted: “When he first came to London, the artist was overwhelmed by some of the paintings in the National Gallery by artists like Botticelli and Bronzino. Holbein and Piranesi also became points of reference. The extraordinary era of Moghal India, with its extravagant, bejeweled empire, which resulted in a wonderful flowering of Indian painting, also found an echo in his art.”

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