Jim Shaw Dream Drawing (I was seeing an old atomic bomb test...) 1995

  • Not on view

The Dream Drawing series is a body of over two hundred works in which the artist depicts visually overwhelming unconscious narratives drawn from his nightly dreams. According to Shaw, he began the Dream Drawings as a way to organize inspirational material from his dreams for potential future artworks; the Dream Objects are the final manifestation of his creative unconscious. Shaw masterfully applies existing artistic styles and inserts cultural symbols into his work, transforming them to suit his personal experiences and preferences.

Gallery label from Glossolalia: Languages of Drawing, March 26–July 7, 2008 .
Additional text

Since graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in 1978, Shaw, like his fellow alumnus Mike Kelley, has been a major figure on the California art scene. In addition to his installation and multimedia work, in the past twenty years Shaw has created an enormous and varied body of drawings, ranging from still-life gouaches to photorealist pencil portraits.

Much of Shaw's work in all media and all of his work on paper is based on his dreams. Created with pencil and often rendered in minute detail, each of his small Dream Drawings juxtaposes seemingly disparate images culled from religion, film, comics, literature, and the artist's fantastic imagination. On the back of each drawing, Shaw writes a description of the dream or series of dreams illustrated on the front. More than a personal record of the artist's psyche or a collection of absurdities, Shaw's Dream Drawings are an extended examination of the fundamental irrationality of the human unconscious and the perfectly rational means—in writing and in pictures—by which we attempt to explain it.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, p. 139.
Pencil on paper
12 x 9" (30.5 x 22.9 cm)
Gift of Dorothy Spears
Object number
© 2023 Jim Shaw
Drawings and Prints

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