The Baltic Centre in Gateshead is currently holding the first-ever retrospective of works by American Jim Shaw outside the United States. Including over one hundred works in a variety of media, from video and sculpture to paintings and installations, the show explores Shaw’s ongoing examination of American life, and his unique set of aesthetic signifiers at play throughout his career.
Jim Shaw, Heap, 2005, Courtesy of the artist and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
Jim Shaw is a Los Angeles based artist who has worked alongside other California Institute of the Arts graduates, including Tony Oursler, John Miller, and Mike Kelley. Strongly influenced by his environment, Shaw has said that, “there are always autobiographical aspects to my art, even if it is completely abstract.” Refusing to to be confined by a singular style, he creates series revolving around complicated, work-intensive narratives that he occasionally revisits and embellishes. This exhibition includes works revolved around the following series by Shaw: My Mirage, Dream Drawings/Objects, Oism, Faces and Men in Pain, and Left Behind.
Each of these series is complicated and has involved over time. The My Mirage series appropriated images from the 1960’s, including those of other artists, and tells the story of Billy, Shaw’s alter ego. This series delves into the issues facing the United States during this tumultuous decade. Conversely, Shaw’s Dream Drawings and Objects were created in the 1990’s and reflected actual dreams that the artist was having during this time period. Oism is a religion that Shaw has created and the works in this series help to reflect and reinforce its existence and set of legends and myths.
Jim Shaw, Dream Object (“I think I was half awake when I thought of this upright piano modelled after the cave monster from ‘It Conquered the World.’ Using an old piano with keys sawed off to make the mouth…”), 2004, Courtesy of the artist and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead
Shaw’s Faces and Men in Pain, one of his early sets of works, has also been recently revisited. In the earlier works, Shaw made drawings that featured faces that looked twisted, some even featuring the artist himself. In the recent pieces, he has taken images, sometimes of himself, and collaged them over abstract landscapes, creating bizarre compositional arrangements that vacillate between self-portrait and avant-garde exploration. A more recent series, Left Behind features works that have been painted on leftover backdrops from theater productions. These pieces explore the problems in recent years with the economy in the United States as manufacturing jobs have been shipped overseas.
Accompanying this exhibition, You think you own your stuff but your stuff owns you includes the artist’s own trove of one hundred paintings he has acquired from flea thrift stores and flea markets in Los Angeles; Shaw collects these paintings because he sees them as a way to understand American culture, and uses them to compliment his own artistic practice.
“The Rinse Cycle” and the accompanying exhibition of Shaw’s thrift store finds offers a unique, fitting introduction to the work of Jim Shaw for an international audience, and illustrates the artist’s ongoing commitment to expressive, inquisitive avant-garde art. The show is view until February 17th.