Jim Shaw @ Simon Lee

Contemporary and Old Art Reviews

Jim Shaw @ Simon Lee

Postby CAP » Sat Mar 09, 2013 7:58 am

Some large and attractive works here from the L.A. veteran, but as usual with this artist, I’m slightly disappointed.

Shaw emerged with the landmark 1992 survey of Los Angeles-based artists, Helter Skelter, faithfully transcribing his trash and counter-cultural comic sources into moderate-scaled paintings, but his real contribution lay with his book Thrift Store Paintings (1990) documenting his collection of amateur and outsider paintings retrieved from thrift stores, along with those of kindred collectors. Shaw’s eye was unerring in seizing upon all that was awkward and amusing in paintings that freely drew from all manner of common graphics, from greetings cards, movie posters, adventure comics as well as the usual photography, but inevitably mangled the source or execution, arrived at baffling hybrids, ugly yet fascinating touches or styles. The results managed to be degraded in a way that left Pop Art far behind, yet perversely triumphant, declaring whole new expressive or ironic territories. On one hand the works are inept, on the other, they arrive at forbidden or outré territory for painting. They were unquestionably so bad they were good. It was an inspired and deeply subversive piece of curating, extolling the amateur or primitive, while declaring a sophisticated new high ground.

The book was an enormous hit with painters at the time, I can vouch for that. Amazingly, it eventually went into a second printing as a paperback. But Shaw’s own work remained curiously cautious, a little too respectful of its sources. Shaw is a competent draughtsman, but as paintings, the comics and other graphics never quite come to life for him, a point only amplified by comparison with his Thrift Store paintings. For some reason Shaw can see it, but can’t do it or make it. He can watch, but he can’t really join in. I’ve always suspected someone like John Currin probably profited more from Thrift Store Paintings than the author, his work notably veering off into more extravagant and errant stylistic flourishes after 1990, following the tidy doll-like paintings of his Yale years. But Shaw also suffers from comparison with L.A. contemporaries like Robert (or Robt) Williams, Raymond Pettibon and Manuel Ocampo. His work lacks their full-blooded engagement or immersion in their respective worlds, they achieve a touch or signature, Shaw gets no more than footnotes for often related sources.

In the current show there are some large works that seem to adopt distressed theatre or film backdrops (shades of Schnabel) and superimpose tidy diagrams and graphics, and while suitably Surreal or esoteric, are just a little dry, a little late these days. Look good in Lee’s though!

It’s a show worth visiting, if only to gauge territory still awaiting bolder exploration.

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