Raqib Shaw

Self Portrait in the Studio at Peckham (After Steenwyck the Younger) II


Not on display

Raqib Shaw born 1974
Acrylic paint, enamel paint and rhinestones on wood panel
Support: 2134 × 1521 mm
frame: 2170 × 1558 × 72 mm
Presented by the Mottahedan Family 2019


Self Portrait in the Studio at Peckham (After Steenwyck the Younger) II 2014–15 is a large-scale, rhinestone-encrusted painting on wood by Raqib Shaw. At over two metres high, the painting’s composition is dominated by an imposing, richly decorated classical interior. A raised platform in the foreground is framed by arches and columns, as if it were a stage set. In the lower right-hand corner of the composition, a table is weighed down with an ostentatious display of riches, featuring a number of items from the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, including the Imperial State Crown. A crate full of champagne bottles sits beneath the table. The display of wealth extends across the canvas with extravagant floral presentations, overflowing cornucopia and roaming peacocks. Amongst the riches, a large number of skeletons cavort, enacting a particularly macabre memento mori. A group of them hold champagne bottles aloft, while some attempt to pour the foaming liquid into their gaping, skinless jaws. Above them another group swing from the ceiling on ropes, performing a grotesque trapeze act, while another of their number plays on a grand piano. Behind these skeletal figures, an exterior view can be glimpsed, with the tip of The Shard, London’s tallest building, visible. Seated on the ground, closer to the foreground, is the skeleton to which the eye is primarily drawn. With ankle irons attaching it to ball and chains, its mask-like face has brightly painted lips, opened to reveal a forked tongue. Flesh remains on parts of its body, notably the thighs which are wide apart to reveal the white fangs of the vagina dentata.

Shaw was born in Calcutta and has lived and worked in London since he moved to the United Kingdom in 1998. His work draws on a wide range of cultural references, from art history, mythology, theatre, science and natural history. His highly detailed technique is achieved by using porcupine quills to apply enamel painted lines, which are subsequently filled in with acrylic paint. Glitter and semi-precious stones are added to these elaborate, densely patterned surfaces. Self Portrait in the Studio at Peckham (After Steenwyck the Younger) II is one of a number of paintings made for the artist’s exhibition at White Cube, London in 2016, which was titled Self Portraits. The exhibition included a series of paintings based, in part, on old masters from the collections of the National Gallery, London, and Prado Museum, Madrid. In this case, the painting being referenced is Croesus and Solon c.1610 by Hendrick van Steenwyck the Younger (c.1580–1640) and Follower of Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625), which is in the collection of the National Gallery. This painting depicts a moment recounted by the ancient Greek historians Herodotus and Plutarch, when the Athenian philosopher Solon disputes with Croesus, King of Lydia, on the subject of happiness. As Solon passes though the palace of the immensely wealthy king, Croesus asks the philosopher to name the happiest man in the world, believing it to be himself. He is disappointed when Solon argues that, contrary to Croesus’s belief, human happiness is dependent not on wealth but on the good fortune of a person’s life overall. Shaw reimagines this exchange as a nightmarish display of ostentation and grotesque reminders of the inevitability of death.

Further reading
Raqib Shaw: Reinventing the Old Masters, exhibition catalogue, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2018.

Helen Delaney
October 2019

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