Raqib Shaw: Self-Portraits


These bold and intricate paintings fuse Baroque and Japanese architectural and perspectival regimes with Hindu gods and Christianity, zombies and lizards, Peckham and Kahsmir. There are so many tiny details in each picture, so much fantasy and gore rendered with a childlike glee that it is difficult not to be enchanted by them.

Calling these opulent paintings self-portraits is a clever joke to the extent that while artist Raqib Shaw appears in the paintings in some form or another, he is surrounded by so much mythical chaos that the depiction of Shaw's physical body gets lost even when it is given a prominent place. Instead, Shaw elaborates the whole range of forces that produce him. The paintings become portraits of his whole being, in which his body plays only a minor part. To hammer this point home, we often see him in a degraded state, for example, in the very first painting of the exhibition, being being devoured by carrion crows.

They copy much older paintings very carefully in their themes and composition. By doing so, he asks us to consider the extent to which the paintings of Old Masters are also self-portraits, the way in which those artists appear in their canvases even if their presence is not explicit.

In addition to the paintings, the exhibition also includes some very fine bronze sculptures in which some creatures, part man, part bat, part horse (part snake?) all writhe in a frenzy which lifts them up into the air. Bad-ass! The sculptures reappear in the portraits set in Shaw's Peckham studio giving the whole affair a self-referential aspect which, well, I suppose they are self portraits after all.

Self-Portraits is at White Cube in Bermondsey until the 11th of September, 2016

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