Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paradise Lost centrepiece of Queensland art show

Paradise Lost centrepiece of Queensland art show Raqib Shaw’s applies layers of enamel stained-glass paints with a porcupine quill to “inlay” the images into the surface like Chinese cloisonné work, then adding rhinestones and glitter.

Indian-born, UK art star Raqib Shaw has laboured on his work Paradise Lost for more than a decade.  
As symbols of global good times go it’s hard to beat: a nine- by three-metre magnum opus inspired by the Palace of Versailles that combines the scale and opulence of those two stars of the last boom, China and India, and is titled – as that mirage retreats into memory – Paradise Lost.

The Indian-born, UK art star Raqib Shaw has laboured on the work – a centrepiece of the seventh Asia-Pacific Triennial opening at the Queensland Art Gallery this weekend – for more than a decade.

His painstaking technique involves applying layers of enamel paints with a porcupine quill to “inlay” the images into the surface like Chinese cloisonné – before overlaying rhinestones and glitter.

“He is an artist we have been watching for some time,” says the Queensland Art Gallery’s curator of contemporary Asian art, Russell Storer. “He’s one of the most innovative painters working at the moment and he brings so many other references and influences in his work. They are incredibly dense with allusion, but also jaw-droppingly beautiful.”

That allusiveness long-since made Shaw an institutional darling; not yet 40, he has had solo shows at the Tate Britain and Metropolitan Museum of Art, which recently acquired a major piece. Not that the acclaim has been universal: “Overweening luxury can grate; any sense of allegory becomes lost in the cloisonné kaleidoscope,” said a New York Times review.

The unveiling of what he calls his life’s work is a sort of southern hemisphere equivalent of the recent star turn by Damien Hirst’s famous diamond skull as part of the artist’s sprawling retrospective at the Tate Modern in London.

Like the skull, Paradise Lost is a glittering memento mori of the irrational exuberance of an era. Unlike the skull, it’s a work in progress. Shaw has been labouring on the six panels since 2001 and says it may reach nine. After which the masterpiece of an artist whose work tends to be snapped up as fast as he can mint it – not fast, painting “demands sweat, blood and tears”, he says, adding, “I like that masochism that comes with it” – will presumably be up for sale through his dealer, White Cube.

Paradise Lost is also unlikely to be as underwhelming in the “flesh” as Hirst’s skull, which went on show at White Cube in 2008, the year of Shaw’s Met show. In fact, the most interesting thing about that work, For the Love of God, was its 8600 diamonds and £50 million price tag (there is some controversy as to whether it was ever actually sold) as punters filed into a black booth filled with as many guards again. The overall thinness of the Hirst retrospective seemed to ring the bell on an era in which the artists made art about the art market.

As for Shaw, the notoriously reclusive, London-based artist took a moment from his labours to tell Saleroom about his influences from Kashmiri papier-mâché to Hieronymus Bosch, and why the cross-cultural expansionism his work celebrates is one trend that won’t end any time soon: “There are many and varied influences on my work, which I think is something we will see more of as the world becomes increasingly globalised, smaller and smaller. I was born in Calcutta and grew up in Kashmir, surrounded by the beauty of nature, by Indian mythology, Sufism, Buddhism – and since the Mughals also left their legacy in Kashmir, there was also a very strong Persian influence.

“My early paintings were conversations with Western art; Holbein had as much of an influence on me as Hokusai. Hieronymus Bosch is my hero because to me he was the first Surrealist. I don’t think that anyone will ever really be able to decipher The Garden of Earthly Delights – it is a coded story that died with the artist.

“When I started out in the 1990s, the art schools in India were almost non-existent [Shaw left India in 1998 for London where he studied at Central St Martin’s School of Art]. I remember the art college in New Delhi was a deserted place with a few students engaging in some Picasso pastiches. It felt as if they were stuck in a dialogue with Modernism that was far removed from the development of art in the West. There were a few galleries in the metropolitan cities but there really wasn’t much of an ‘art world’ at all – you could buy a Hussein or a Tayeb Mehta for a few hundred thousand rupees.

“Although the Indian market is still focused on local art, nowadays there are a few artists crossing over and being represented by international galleries, becoming part of the established art world. Back then none of the blue chip galleries represented any Indian artists, which is a trend that is now changing as more dealers try to break into the Indian art market.

“In 1999 when I went to Paris and saw the magnificent paintings at Versailles, I was inspired by the notion of an artist’s efforts to create – by the challenge of creating – something larger than life. As a justification for my time on Earth, I felt that it would be a charming idea if I were able to look back at a painting on my death bed and feel somehow that my time on Earth was justified, in however insignificant a way as this may be.

Paradise Lost is a complex personal diary that chronicles my experience of living on Earth. The painting starts in the metaphorical mountains, passes on to crumbling ruins, inevitably to end in an apocalyptic vision of Hell.

“The painting is divided into seasons and the background moves from night to day, in accordance with the seasons. It is this gradation in the background that determines the size of the painting. When the Paradise Lost painting is finished – which will hopefully happen within a few years – it will be 130 feet (40 metres) long.

“It was important to make this painting now – whilst I am in the prime of my life – as I am not sure if I will have the energy to embark upon such a challenge as I get older. The painting is my homage to the history of painting itself – to the ultimate dialogue between the surface and the artist.”

No comments:

Post a Comment