Raqib Shaw makes amazingly ornate renaissance-inspired paintings that feature a dazzling assortment of mythical super-creatures. Often, these fantastic beasts have animal heads and humanoid bodies, like forgotten gods from a long-lost civilization. His paintings are opulent in the extreme, often connoting violence, lust and hedonism despite their delicacy. In light of his new exhibition at Ropac, I caught up with the Kashmir-born artist to find out more about him and his work.
Tell us a little about your latest exhibition, Of Beasts and Super-Beasts?Of Beasts and Super-Beasts is inspired by Saki's novel of the same name. I like the way in which he satirises upper class Edwardian society as well as the way in which he deals with the subjects of death and mortality in a very humorous way. Visual symbols are taken from the sketches of Fontaine and Perciere, whom I first stumbled upon in The British Library. On my first visit to Versailles, more than a decade ago, I was quite inspired by the designs of the Court of Napoleon and the Empire style.
How long does one of your artworks generally take you to create?It depends on the work. For example, the big Paradise Lost painting has been worked on for thirteen years now, and will probably take another few years to complete. Smaller works take less time.
What do you enjoy more: the process or looking at the finished product?Making the work is more engaging and more of a challenge, but once the story is finished it is finished. There is not much one can do with a finished painting.
Do you think that the way the hierarchy in the animal kingdom works is largely representative of the way human society works?Yes. After all, are we not all animals?
Is your house as opulent and ornately decorated as your paintings?I live in my studio. I don't have a house and I spend most of my time serving beauty. For me, every frame that the eye encounters has to behold beauty. I do spend all my profits on flowers and plants.
I read that you were inspired by one of Hieronymous Bosch’s fifteenth century triptychs. Which one inspired you, and what do you find so compelling about it?The Garden of Earthly Delights is my favourite Bosch painting. I believe he was the first Surrealist and his work was way ahead of his time.
If you could bring one of the creatures in your artworks to life, which one would you choose and why? All the creatures are metaphors for both real and fictitious people. I cannot imagine the horror of bringing any one of them to life, for they are creatures that belong to the world in which I have placed them.