Raqib Shaw – Reflections Upon the Looking-Glass River – Pace Gallery Genève – June 8–August 7, 2021

Pace presents the first exhibition of paintings by Raqib Shaw at its Geneva gallery. On view 8 June – 7 August, ‘Raqib Shaw: Reflections Upon the Looking-Glass River‘ brings together a suite of recent paintings made while in lockdown. Presented in dialogue with one another, these intricate paintings speak to the most pressing themes of contemporary life: beauty, kindness, cruelty, loneliness, contentment, loss. This exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated artist publication with an introduction by Shaw.

The lockdowns of 2020 and 2021 afforded Shaw more time to devote to his passions. In paintings such as Lockdown Bliss, Shaw is depicted reading under the moonlight with his beloved dog. Shaw also used the enforced time at home to tend to the garden of his South London home-studio. Inspired by the landscape of Kashmir, Shaw hand-built an elaborate alpine rockery from over 70 tonnes of rock and soil with a cornucopia of flowers, shrubbery and miniature trees; serving as both a tranquil oasis from the bustling city and a stage set for his ornate paintings. Borrowing its title from the 1885 poem by Robert Louis Stevenson, Raqib Shaw: Reflections Upon the Looking-Glass River pays homage to the imposed ‘slowness’ of the last 18 months. Shaw’s contemplative paintings, much like Stevenson’s poem, call attention to the quiet moments of life and the knowledge that all disturbances eventually calm:

Patience, children, just a minute –
See the spreading circles die;
The stream and all in it
Will clear by-and-by.
– Robert Louis Stevenson

In connecting his painting to the idyllic, pastoral imagery of Stevenson’s poem, Shaw underscores his preoccupation with the relationship between nature and childlike fantasy. The paintings titled after the poem – Bloom Bleeder in the Looking-Glass River, High Summer in the Looking-Glass River, and Tempesta (after Giorgione) in the Looking-Glass River – represent the cycle of the seasons, connected by the same mystical view of London in the background. The familiar swirl of the River Thames snakes around the iconic city skyline, a stark reminder of the reality of the outside world while the painting’s protagonist remains entrenched in their individual world.

Renowned for his ornate and elaborate paintings, Shaw’s work is a fusion of fantasy, mythology, realism, and biography, with direct references to Indian miniature painting and Western art history. Responding to his self-imposed exile from Kashmir, paintings such as That night in Xanadu when the birds were set free… (2019-2021) reclaim the lush landscapes of Shaw’s childhood to evoke the duality of expansiveness and self-containment. At the core of Shaw’s distinctive visual language is this tension between escapism and confinement, longing and exile. The global pandemic has brought this further into focus.

The paintings on view in Raqib Shaw: Reflections Upon the Looking-Glass River mark a new development in the artist’s distinctive visual lexicon with the addition of London’s modern cityscape. Shaw has combined his iconic compositions of acrylic liner, Hammerite and enamel with a contrasting wash of watercolour. The interplay of viscous, glossy paint with delicate watercolour enhances the sculptural effect of the former, imbuing his paintings with newfound solidity. In Final Submersion in the looking-glass river (2021) Shaw carefully interweaves the two mediums in the reflection on the water’s surface, a playful comment on the fragile relationship between reality and imitation.

Raqib Shaw (1974, Calcutta) is known for opulent and intricately detailed paintings of fantastical worlds, often with surfaces inlaid with vibrantly colored jewels and painted in enamel. His works reveal an eclectic fusion of influences—from Persian carpets and Northern Renaissance painting to industrial materials and Japanese lacquerware—and are often developed in series from literary, art historical, and mystical sources. Shaw has had solo exhibitions at Tate Modern, London (2006), The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2008), Manchester Art Gallery (2013), Galerie Rudolfinum, Prague (2013), and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh (2018). His exhibition at The Whitworth Art Gallery, The University of Manchester, United Kingdom (2017) was reimagined for the Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh, in 2018.


Images: 1- Raqib Shaw, That night in Xanadu when the birds were set free, 2019-2021 © Raqib Shaw. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. 2- Raqib Shaw, Bloom Bleeder in the looking-glass river, 2020-2021 © Raqib Shaw. Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates Ltd. Copyright the artist – courtesy Pace Geneve

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