As of 19 May 2018, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art has claimed the title of first venue to host Raqib Shaw’s work in Scotland. An ambitious exhibition of eight works in total, each large-scale piece dominates a wall of the two rooms comprising Modern One. Also of note are the cases containing paint-mixing experiments and tools, accompanied by textual insights into Shaw’s methods. Shaw’s fascinating technique was borne out of the frugality of life as a London-based art student during the 1990s. Using low cost, industrial grade enamel paints on birchwood panels, the Kashmiri-raised artist is unafraid to introduce painstaking detail to vast surfaces. Shaw himself has estimated that without a team of assistants, it would take approximately four and a half years for one person to complete a typical six by five foot panel. Much time is dedicated to the overhead projection of images for transfer, after which a porcupine quill is used to manipulate paints within the confines of gold liner. The result constitutes a beautifully glossy finish that catches both the light and the eye.
Drawing particular inspiration from Joseph Noel Paton’s 1849 ‘The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania’ and Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 1528 ‘An Allegory of Melancholy’, Shaw weaves autobiographic detail together with themes inspired by the Old Masters. David Pollock perceives Shaw’s decision to depict his own profile and experience as an act of self-veneration. Some observers may agree. For example, ‘The Purification of the Temple (after Marcello Venusti) II’ features Shaw himself kneeling at Shiva’s feet. Others, including Shaw himself, may choose to define this choice as the marriage of antiquity with contemporary fashion. Either way, the exquisite detail and opulent colours featured in every piece on display certainly demand full attention. Especially eye-catching is ‘Kashmir Danaë (After Jan Gossaert)’. The use of rhinestones set against high shine enamel is reminiscent of Cloisonné embellishment techniques. It also serves to support Shaw’s propensity to embed autobiographic clues in his works, in this case intricately depicting a highly stylised Kashmiri landscape.
This is an exhibition crafted to instigate debate and curiosity, with the capacity to engage a wide variety of observer, from those with specific interest in pioneering methods of art production to the rhinestone enthusiast. It is well worth a visit.
At Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Modern One
Until 28 October 2018
Image Credit: Erin Withey