White Cube presents White Cube at Glyndebourne, a partnership with the world-renowned, Sussex-based, Glyndebourne Festival, to exhibit artworks by a White Cube artist during the Festival.
The 2016 White Cube at Glyndebourne artist is London-based, Kashmiri-raised painter Raqib Shaw. For his new works, Shaw, himself a passionate opera fan, has taken inspiration from the traditions and landscape of Glyndebourne as well as two operas staged at this year’s Festival: Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnbergand Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The exhibition will be presented in a gallery custom-designed by the award-winning architectural studio Carmody Groarke.
Shaw’s approach to painting is unique in its use of a personal iconography that reflects his own cultural hybridity, drawing on both Eastern and Western sources. His obsessively decorative compositions reference diverse sources including the English prose and poetry of the Romantic period, Old Master paintings, in particular those of Bosch and Brueghel, Persian miniatures and the art, literature and myths of his native India.
In Self Portrait as Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) (2016), a lavish picnic feast laid out by the side of a lake features a reclining figure with the head of a donkey, wearing a sumptuous richly embroidered gold kimono. While the scene is certainly a foil for Shaw’s passion for decorative details (such as the woven cranes and chrysanthemums of the kimono, and the glittering patterns of flowers and mushrooms spread across the ground like a carpet) it also refers directly to the Shakespeare character Bottom from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Shaw’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s comedy is sinister; a tainted paradise where the picnic feast of stuffed boar head, lobster and ripe fruits is infested with snakes and invaded by cavorting horn-headed, skull-faced fairies. The fairies here are transgressively erotic, inspired in part by a scene in Ken Russell’s film Women in Love (1969) and by the paintings of Ruben and Carracci. These half-human, half-animal protagonists abound in Shaw’s work, the result not only of an interest in mythology but also the correlation between human and animal behaviour. A second painting, The Opium Smoker (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) (2016), also based on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, speaks to Jean Lecomte du Nouyâ’s oil paintingThe Dream of a Eunuch (1874). Shaw has portrayed himself as Bottom picnicking within the grounds at Glyndebourne. Bottom is holding in one hand an antique French mirror in which the artists face is reflected. In his other hand, Bottom holds an opium pipe from which palls of smoke trail across the night sky forming into numerous grimacing faces of the artist.
In the painting titled Act 3 in the Organ Room at Glyndebourne (Die Meistersinger) (2016), Shaw focuses on the majestic organ room at Glyndebourne, which was built during the 1920s. Using its structure as a setting for a grotesque mythological vision, the painting features mole-rats with decomposing flesh, swinging from the ceiling or leaping over the furniture with wild abandon. Shaw creates these paintings using a quick-drying enamel paint, which is applied with porcupine quills to areas that have been pre-defined in gold paint, as in the cloisonné technique, lending their surface an almost three-dimensional presence. His use of sharp perspective coupled with overall detail results in a destabilising visual tension.
In collaboration with the Glyndebourne Shop, an exclusive collection of pure natural woollen blankets and printed luxury deckchairs have been produced for this year’s Festival, designed by Raqib Shaw. The blankets and deckchair feature sections from Self Portrait as Bottom (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) (2016) and are limited in number. Blankets cost £450 and deckchairs are priced at £190.