Visiting Artist Talk: Jim Shaw: notes


Our thanks to Jim Shaw for his talk last week, and further thanks to everyone who attended. Here are our quick notes. Tonight at seven we have Mads Lynnerup.


  • Shaw, looking around and noting that he was on the UNLV faculty in the late 1980s: “It feels like coming back to a school I went to, rather than taught at.”
  • growing up in a small town, the art he saw when he was a child was always in magazines and books. Art itself – as a practice – seemed to naturally end with the shape of a book. Books were “the final form for the things I was working on.”
  • young, he felt nostalgic for things that had happened before he existed (b. 1952). He was drawn to advertisements from the 1940s and ’50s. The Surrealism of them. A woman sleeping on a mattress filled with tiny strongmen. The mattress manufacturer wants to show you the interior power of the product, but Shaw borrows the image for its succinct strangeness. He uses it in politically-minded works to suggest dominant forces resting comfortably on top of crowds.
  • his college art teachers in the 1970s were older Abstract Expressionists and Pop artists. Abstraction didn’t make an impact on him, “so I had to do something else.” Invented an imaginary religion called Oism (pron. oh-ism).
  • from the start he preferred to work on a small or medium scale. Showing us a photograph of an early large-canvas show (distorted realist-cartoon portraits), he described it as “my idea of a joke version of heroic scale.” Still likes doing middle-sized drawings but laments that nobody buys them.
  • he began to record his dreams. Drew them for years. The best way to capture your dreams, he says, is to sleep without a scheduled wake-up time, and use a voice recorder. Don’t try to write things down in the middle of the night. “As I was working on these dreams I began to see the language of puns.” He exhibited some of the dream drawings at the Donna Beam while he was teaching at UNLV.
  • he constructed 3-D dream objects. He shows us a photograph of a textile shape with curves.”I had a dream where it was OK for me to do things I hadn’t dreamt of and somehow this ear couch came out of that.” Shows us photographs of fake legs “that had been caught in animal traps.” The toes and thighs raggedly sliced off. More pictures. “I did a whole body of vacuum cleaner musical instruments.”
  • stopped making dream drawings in 1999.
  • photographs of work he made for art fairs. The work incorporates realistic black and white drawings. “This was a piece of toilet paper that looked to me like a cross between Ronald Reagan and South America.”
  • he is a collector & a packrat. Thrift store paintings. An overflowing basement. He buys large, old, painted canvas backdrops to work on – flaking theater scenes of streets, trees, fields, trains, etc. “I’m getting to work on some Masonic backdrops in my next big show.” “It’s going to be basically like a big Hieronymus Bosch you can walk through.” Religious illustration as American Surrealism.
  • from the audience (apropos of nothing) someone’s mechanical Siri-voice says loudly, “I didn’t quite get that.” Shaw, laconically: “I apologize.”
  • “The man-machine era I think we’re entering.” The iPhone unites us with the machine world more completely than anything else.
  • The 5, 000 Fingers of Dr. T. The Bible. Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Wigs; women’s sculptural 1950s hair. “Anything I can riff off of.”

Tell us what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s