Jim Shaw: ‘I realized that I wasn’t naturally born to good taste.’

Macy Conference, 2019.
Acrylic on muslin, 60 x 48 inches (152.4 x 121.9 cm).
Born on August 8, 1952 in Midland, MI, Shaw received his BFA from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and moved with Mike Kelley, a friend and fellow member of the band Destroy All Monsters, to study at the California Institute of the Arts, where he graduated with an MFA in 1978. Shaw currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA and was notable to the subject of a major retrospective at the New Museum in New York in 2015, titled “Jim Shaw: The End is Near.” (Artnet)
The Rhinegold’s Curse, 2014. Acrylic on muslin in 3 parts,
Each panel 96 x 48 inches (243.8 x 121.9 cm), Overall 96 x 144 inches (243.8 x 365.8 cm).
Into the Void, 2015. Acrylic on muslin, 38 x 57 inches (96.5 x 144.8 cm).
In this open-ended project, Shaw questions the myths and beliefs of  different religions in America by surveying the spiritual landscape. As a  result, his extensive research led to the formation of a fictitious  religion called O-ism which is influenced by the Bible, philosophy, science, and ancient culture. Shaw has created several bodies of work related to O-ism which is an ongoing topic.
The Vicious Circle , 2020
Oil pastel and oil paint on board, muslin, LED
48 1/16 x 64 1/8 x 3 inches

‘It’s good taste versus not good taste. I realized that I wasn’t naturally born to good taste. I understand what it is, but I am happy to wear bright colors. I do have a few items of black clothing, but I think good taste and doing the same thing over and over again is what the whole art world has become. It’s the easiest thing to organize around. If you have everything as a possibility, it’s a lot harder to understand.’

Lincoln/Moloch, 2020
Acrylic on muslin and blacklight
29 x 38 inches

I was allowed to have comic books, but not monster magazines. My father was very focused on newspaper-oriented things, including newspaper comics. Comic books, in a sense, were acceptable, but monster magazines, not so much. This was well after the period of horror comics. [Comics] are all we had—these weird things exuded from the effects of the censorship. I grew up with the comics that came out of that and they were just weird.

The Cavern, 2015
Acrylic on muslin
26 x 44 inches

There is a demand for more Asperger-spectrum people in the inexorable march toward a STEM (science technology electronics math) future. I recently read an article about a Texan from a WASP US military family who had become a leading ISIS religious theoretician, and the writer said, noticing his skill at coding, that it fit with all the jihadists he’d studied, who were all engineers (think of the 9/11 hijackers). In the Trump administration, a lot of the brains behind the deal (Peter Thiele, Rebekah Mercer, possibly Steve Bannon) seem clearly to fall within the spectrum. As an artist who occasionally sees the world going to hell in a handbasket (of deplorables?) I can sort of see a perverse reflection of myself in those extremists, yet I channel my disgust into the charming and antique modes of the picture generation, rather than fomenting deliberately destructive wars. If only Hitler had been a successful artist. (Mousse Magazine)

The Woman In The Wilderness, 2016. Acrylic on muslin, 48 x 65 in (121.9 x 165.1 cm).
The Call, 2016. Acrylic on muslin, 48 x 32 inches (121.9 x 81.3 cm).

TB: With many of these figures you’ve painted, you’re picking up a conversation around the depiction of the male body. Where does this trace back to?

JS: It is an aspect of heroic art that references both Michelangelo and comics, the “innocent” homoeroticism that seems so integral in the comics that those ten-year-old-boy consumers of comics demanded (also present in TV wrestling, popular with young boys), which now is magnified as the drawn superheroes are played by steroidal hunks in tent-pole movies with $200 million budgets, and bellicose politicians whose whole appeal comes from “fuck you—no fuck you” alpha-male interactions. I have tied this into the short series of Wrestling with God pieces, the final one being in this show, earlier elements popping up in the collaged chaos paintings. The first was a composition based on The Liver Is the Cock’s Comb but an image of Prometheus having his liver torn out by an eagle, with Edward Snowden in the Prometheus role.(ibidem)

Jim Shaw Prometheus: Liver is the Cock’s Comb (black and white), 2015
Jim Shaw To Serve Mankind, 2018
Jim Shaw Man Of Stone, 2014
Acrylic on muslin
121.9 x 243.8 cm 48 x 96 in

Shaw is not so easy to digest. He eschews a signature style, preferring to deliberately stylize his paintings, sculptures, and drawings all over the map. His cultural references are found on the fringes of the popular and often require specific research or explanation to appreciate the depths of their significance. Countercultural strains of Americana capture Shaw’s attention-psychedelia, sci-fi, UFOology, conspiracy theories, exploitation films, religious cults, outsider art, thrift-store kitsch as well as the unbounded weirdness of his own dream life. The jingle-like language of Pop has been transformed into rambling, run-on sentences that describe fragmented ideas, associative thoughts and schizophrenic images. Too strange, too perverse, too lurid, too precise: Shaw is an elusive character that defies categorization. (Rue de la Muse, Alison M. Gingeras)

Mirror Comb, 1979/2012. Airbrush, pencil and colored pencil on paper,
13.63 x 16.63 inches (34.6 x 42.2 cm).

In Shaws handen wordt de algemene Amerikaanse geschiedenis een vervormbaar medium. Zijn bijna dwangmatige onderzoek naar historische eigenaardigheden, toevalligheden en pretenties hebben allemaal vormgegeven aan zijn fictieve godsdienst, het Oïsme. Het Oïsme vormt een rode draad in het oeuvre van Shaw, en is grotendeels gebaseerd op Amerikaanse geloofsovertuigingen, zoals het mormonisme en de Christian Science, maar het raakt ook aan theosofie en vrijmetselarij. Shaw is geïnteresseerd in de wijze waarop zulke dogma’s onbeheersbaar kunnen worden, en zijn verbeeldingen daarvan zijn tegelijk serieus en absurd. Het Oïsme heeft tal van projecten gegenereerd, waaronder geheime rites voor enkel mannen, een work-out video, uitgebreid gechoreografeerde dansen op film, een ambitieuze progrock [progressieve rock – red.] band en een reeks stripboeken. (Metropolis M Catherine Taft 2013 vertaald door Leo Reijnen)

Family Stories, 2019.
Acrylic on canvas, 62 x 48 inches (157.5 x 121.9 cm).

Ik heb strips bestudeerd en heb grote bewondering voor wat die kunstenaars deden. Een van de redenen voor dit project – afgezien van het uitstellen van het schrijven – is het onder de knie krijgen van het tekenen in zwart-wit. De strips die ik als kind las, waren niet de Marvel Comics, maar vooral de DC Comics en die hadden verhaallijnen die psychologisch erg vreemd konden zijn. Dat fascineert me. Ze waren altijd op het rationele gericht, maar op de omslagen stonden heel irrationele dingen. Op de voorkant stond dus iets totaal onmogelijks, een in feite surreële gebeurtenis, en dan bood het verhaal de rationele uitleg van dat tafereel.’

Left: Jim Shaw, Dream Drawing (I was in a Vegas show about a Viking farmer…), 1995. Pencil on paper, 12 x 9 in. Courtesy Blum & Poe, Los Angeles.Right: The Temptation of Doubting Olsen, 1990, from the My Mirage series.

I figure that there are two meanings to any work. There’s the meaning that the artist intends, and then there’s the meaning that the viewer gets out of it—those can be two completely different things. Then there’s a third one for really well-known historical works like the Mona Lisa, where there is a meaning well outside of any actual value the painting has. To me, it’s like when we look at a Bosch or Brueghel. We can’t know all of the reference points that would have been there for a viewer at the time, especially for a Bosch or any Dutch painting—they had a ton of meanings that are lost to us. We’re in the post-meaning era. (East of Borneo, Julian Hoeber 2014)

Crowd, House Web, 2013
Acrylic, plastic model homes and magnets on muslin
48 x 96 x 2 7/8 inches

De veelzijdigheid van een uiterst bekwaam tekenaar-vormgever breekt telkens weer door de oevers van elke veilig aangelegde denkrichting. Er is de nieuwsgierigheid, de drang om met schijnbaar niet congruerende materialen en stellingen toch weer vergezichten te openen of intieme emoties met bijna baldadige onderstromen te verenigen. Maar er is de warmte, de zin voor hetgene ons niet rationeel omgeeft: het onderzoeken van werkelijkheden die je graag bijna wetenschappelijk zou willen benaderen maar die door rituelen en heilige horizonten alleen maar door deze werkzame bi-polariteit kunnen ontdekt en getoond worden en die ons al eeuwen nieuwsgierig maakten naar onbetreedbare dimensies. Het schijnbaar onuitputtelijke van zijn thema’s en daarmee samengaande expressievormen blijft je nieuwsgierig maken.

Sibyl, 2016
Acrylic on muslin
40 x 32 x 1 1/2 inches

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https://www.metropictures.com/artists/jim-shaw/images

https://www.blumandpoe.com/artists/jim_shaw