© The Artist


Raqib Shaw (1974 – )


42 X 59.5 CM
Accession number


Drawing is at the heart of Raqib Shaw’s practice as a painter. It is his starting point: individual drawings are transferred to acetate, which are projected separately onto a panel as the composition is worked out. An instinct for the final piece only takes shape through its execution. However Shaw also elevates the status of a work on paper on its own terms, as in the present piece, where he elaborates on the act of drawing by using glitter and jewels to dress up pencil and synthetic polymer paint. In this piece, from the body of work ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, Shaw employs a cheap kind of paint to make something obviously precious, with the application of jewels. It displays his signature technique of outlining each motif in gold, then filling in with colour; this is a pernickety process that affords no room for slips. The irony in Shaw’s embrace of industrial paint within the tradition of fine art is pointed in terms of its figurative use (rather than abstraction, with which industrial materials have come to be more associated). He presents a hedonistic swirl of hybrid creatures: an avian penis, swirling semen amid an assembly of a flying sea turtle, a crowned, chained and reptilian-headed figure and couple of insouciant fish-birds.

For Shaw, the act of painting is akin to keeping a diary; it is a place to work through feelings and anxieties and serves to create a parallel world in itself. Painting can be a masochistic act, he says: it demands ‘sweat, blood and tears’. Surface tension is brought to the fore. Shaw’s application of paint emphasises contrasts between background and foreground, emptiness and embellishment: the figures are thick and dense against the paper, which seems, by contrast, bare and exposed. And playing on the tension between beauty and disgust, there is in fact a careful anatomical basis for his fantastical elaboration, from research in London’s Natural History Museum. He brings together fine art references and craft techniques from a variety of cultures; the finesse of antique natural history illustrations is applied to motifs from Hindu religious iconography and British adult comics.