“Raqib Shaw at the Met,” the artist’s first solo exhibition in a New York museum, marks a turning point from his Holbein-inspired works to his new Absence of God series. In Shaw’s words, Holbein has passed the baton to Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778). The panel Absence of God IV . . . The Blind Butterfly Catcher (2008) shows Tudor buildings giving way to a setting suggested by Piranesi’s etchings of the abandoned vestiges of classical constructions.
Shaw’s distinctive enamel-like surfaces are created by using porcupine quills to apply metallic industrial paints. The jeweled colors intensify the hothouse atmosphere populated by the flowers, insects, birds, animals, and monsters of Shaw’s imaginary universe. Although the delightful colors and patterns evoke the Persian carpets, jewelry, and shawls that his family traded in India and Kashmir, the imagery derives from his extensive familiarity with Western painting, from Hieronymus Bosch (ca. 1460–1516) to Francis Bacon (1909–1992). Like both of these artists, Shaw reveals the violence and sex that lurk beneath much human behavior.