Jim Shaw | November 1 – December 21, 2013 | Blum & Poe | 2727 S. La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90034 | http://www.blumandpoe.com
When you walk into the Blum & Poe gallery, whisper quietly and walk on your tip toes so as not to wake up Jim Shaw. Yes, the artist is dreaming and by entering the gallery, you have stepped into his world and into his dream. In his dream, you can see many colors and many objects floating into each other. There are miniature houses connected with a red line, which looks as though it is a stream of blood oozing out of the heart of someone who was once an occupant of one of the houses but is not living there any more. In the background of these miniature houses, you can see the faded faces of the people who once lived there but are now only a distant memory and nothing else. In a corner of the gallery, you can see cut arms and legs hanging on the wall and thrown on the floor like they are the soulless pieces of men waiting to be reincarnated, so as to be able to live and love again. The wall looks like the house of someone we once knew, but he no longer lives there. He is gone and the house is empty and cold, like a coffin that is being carried on the shoulder of somber men walking in the flood and against the cloudy, sad, blue sky of the wall’s painted background.
While Jim Shaw was painting these imageries, he let go and allowed himself to float and orbit in different directions of his emotional mind. A poet of shapes and colors, he painted as though telling us his many stories. Shaw paints like someone who has traveled to different dimensions of his own being and visited a mighty god, and in his return, he is just overwhelmed by the emotion of experiencing something greater than himself. He is so overtaken by the experience that he cannot even contain himself and cannot begin to express what he has witnessed.
Walking in the gallery, moving from one painting to another, I felt that Jim Shaw’s imagination is borderless and can take me with it, as though it were the current of a wild river, and my only choice is to submit to the power it poses over me. I thought the best I could do was to let go while viewing his art the same way he let go while creating them.
No human transition is more extreme than life to death, which Shaw makes prominent in his repetition of ominous, and yet cleansing, water motifs. Enveloping the exhibition space at eighteen by forty feet is the work Mississippi River Mural, an old theater backdrop layered with a frieze of figures painted in illustrative comic style in battle-ready stances. This commanding work is unnervingly static, as if the figures have waited an eternity for their stage queue to the afterlife. Shaw’s obsession with the cycle of life and death serves as a basis for the other works in the show.
Playing central roles throughout the exhibition are two operas: Wagner’s The Ring of the Niebelung and Brecht / Weill’s,The Seven Deadly Sins. Each depicts the lust for earthly objects as the ultimate downfall of man. Shaw’s paintingThe House in Mississippi illustrates this damning quest quite literally with a coffin, in the guise of a home, being carried down the river by seven pall-bearers. Once acquired, the home becomes a burden, trapping the one who sought it. Directly across from this work is a house composed of hair. In this example, hair becomes a binding, tentacle-like force, entangling man in his own selfish pursuit.
Shaw’s concern with the sin of man is cast in a broad range of spiritual fanaticisms. References to Evangelicalism, Blakean mysticism, as well as his own fabricated pseudo-religion, Oism, shift the conversation from one of high art to populist agendas. In this vein, Shaw has created a banner similar in style to Evangelical tent revival murals, which crosses Biblical, Eschatalogical, and Oist histories. Stemming from a place of self-reflection, these often grandiose gestures are marked with a sense of vulnerability. Alchemically fusing the high and low Shaw’s capacity to produce a body of work that reveres the human condition, in all its extremes, remains unmatched.
Jim Shaw (born 1952 in Midland, Michigan) lives and works in Los Angeles. He received his bachelor of arts from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and his master of fine arts at California Institute of the Arts. His work has been shown extensively and has been the subject of numerous solo exhibitions, including a career retrospective at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK; CAPC, Musee de’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux, France; MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center, Long Island City, NY; Magasin, Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Grenoble, France; ICA, London; and Musee d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Geneva, Switzerland. Shaw is currently exhibiting EncyclopedicPalace 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands; and the Chalet Society, Paris, France. His work is also featured in prominent public and private collections, such as MoMA, New York; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, NY; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN.