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White Gray Black

Jim Shaw (American, born 1952)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American painter, draughtsman, sculptor and conceptual artist. Rejecting the notion of a signature style, he instead occupies other styles in a chameleon-like way. Rather than taking codified notions of ‘pop’ culture as was done by the previous generation of American artists, or appropriating wholesale images or objects, in the manner of the New York Neo-Geo artists, Shaw has developed a methodology of mimicking styles and incorporating them into his encyclopaedically deranged projects. His primary interest seems to be in the overlooked creative production of the American public at large, as is attested to by his collection of thrift-store paintings, which he showed in both galleries and museums.

Inspired by the cut-up technique used by the American novelist William S. Burroughs, in his first major project, My Mirage (1986–91), Shaw used a fragmented and hallucinatory narrative to chart the changing psyche of his alter-ego Billy, charting his development from adolescence, through his discovery of sex and drugs, to his subsequent fall and finally to his rebirth through organized religion. In this project, Shaw kept each of the works to a standardized size (17×14 in.) in order to give cohesion to images produced in a wide variety of styles. Such works as Billy Self Portrait #2 (1989; see 1999 exh. cat., p. 83), where Billy is shown sniffing glue, and The Temptation of Doubting Olsen (1990; see 1999 exh. cat., p. 85) are rendered in completely different ways but with an equally accurate mimicry, comic tone and crazed, nightmarish content. In the 1990s Shaw began to create drawings and sculptures directly related to his dream life, such as Dream Drawing (A Steaming Funhouse where Adults Pretend to Feed Babies into Giant Throats...) (1995; see 1999 exh. cat., p. 114) and Dream Object (I’m Attaching Yellow-green Velvet...) (1997; see 1999 exh. cat., p. 109.). In these, Shaw worked more from memory than from defined existing cultural products, showing how these cultural forms lodge themselves into unconscious thought and are thus transformed and personalized.

Francis Summers
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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