Stephen Chambers: The Court of Redonda
Coming soon to Hastings Contemporary
For The Court of Redonda, painter and printmaker Stephen Chambers has conjured up 101 imaginary courtiers, much like the ancestral portraits of the “great white male” that adorn the walls of Europe’s highest institutions. But this is not your typical court.
Chambers’s monumental work The Court of Redonda – nearly two years in the making – draws on the remarkable story of Redonda. A tiny, uninhabited island in the West Indies, Redonda was allegedly claimed in 1865 by a passing merchant trader, who declared himself monarch. The title passed down to his son, who then decided that it should follow a literary lineage. From then on, the crown was offered to poets and writers. It was the writings of Spanish novelist Javier Marías, one of Redonda’s more recent sovereigns, and Marías’s own eclectic choice of courtiers (including film director Pedro Almodóvar and English novelist AS Byatt) that inspired Chambers to create his imaginary court of 101 different ethnicities, cultural affiliations (carefully indicated by clothing and hairstyles), and professions – not just poets, philosophers, artists and writers, but also patients, pharmacists, harlots and “bums”.
Chambers explains: ‘It’s a construct, it’s an idea that I was intrigued with. I wrote to Javier Marías, and in that correspondence, I suggested that I would paint portraits of the court. The paintings are not portraits from life, and they’re not depictions of real people, they are people that I have invented. I wanted to invent a wide range of motley ne’er-do-wells and in a way, celebrate their ordinariness. There is that line that I kick around my head which goes ‘the ordinary is more extraordinary than the extraordinary’’.
Stephen Chambers was elected to the Royal Academy of Art in London in 2005 and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from Downing College at the University of Cambridge in 2016. The Court of Redonda was shown at the Venice Biennale in 2017 and solo exhibitions followed at the Royal Academy, London (2012) and the Pera Museum, Istanbul (2014).
Cover image: Stephen Chambers, Count Music, oil on panel, 2016-17 © Stephen Chambers, courtesy of Vigo Gallery. Top left: Stephen Chambers, Doña Margarita de Teotitlán, oil on panel, 2016-17 © Stephen Chambers, courtesy of Vigo Gallery. Top centre: Stephen Chambers, Bruno de Ultramer, oil on panel, 2016-17 © Stephen Chambers, courtesy of Vigo Gallery. Top right: Stephen Chambers, The Rual Ambassador, oil on panel, 2016-17 © Stephen Chambers, courtesy of Vigo Gallery.