Stephen Chambers: The Court of Redonda
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For The Court of Redonda, UK painter and printmaker Stephen Chambers has conjured a cast of 101 imaginary courtiers, much like the court or ancestral portraits of the “great white male” that adorn the walls of Europe’s highest institutions. But this is not your typical court.
Chamber’s monumental work, The Court of Redonda – nearly two years in the making – draws on a remarkable, seemingly true story of a tiny, uninhabited island in the West Indies, called Redonda, which a passing merchant trader had the ambition to claim as his own in 1865, electing himself monarch. The title passed down to his son, who then declared that it should follow a literary lineage. From that point on, the kingship 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 with 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’re-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.