Jim Shaw is known to many for his elaborate, highly refined drawings of dreams that staple of Surrealism. For years, he would awake with a tape recorder nearby to document his memories of what was taking place in his unconscious. And then he got married, to artist Marnie Weber, and had a daughter. No more waking up in the night to record dreams but images from the larger collective unconscious have continued to recur in his work, which has been amplified in scale and complexity in recent years. His present exhibition at Blum and Poe, with some paintings approaching the size of a cine-plex screen, is both an enlargement and a refinement of his long-standing interests. It continues through December 21.
There are some familiar themes: comic book graphics, historic, mythic and religious figures, the house as seat of security and dysfunction, the aspiration to transcendence, the disappointment and ecstasy of spiritual struggle.
Jim Shaw, "Mississippi River Mural," 2013
Acrylic on muslin with aqua resin, foam, acrylic and metal rod
Mural: approximately 230 x 480 inches (584.2 x 1219.2 centimeters)
Sculpture: 49 1/2 x 27 1/2 x 65 inches (125.7 x 69.9 x 165.1 centimeters)
Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
Shaw has painted his carefully rendered imagery over worn, backdrops for stage productions, adding a layer of actual as well as subjective nostalgia. The largest work in the show is a horizontal mural of paddlewheel boat on the Mississippi River faded to a barely legible pattern of blues and greens behind his array of heroes and angels, villains and demons, rendered in the distinctive black outlines of comic books. Though posed in active stances, they are not engaged, not even with each other, as though frozen mid-gesture.
Superman himself has been reduced to his drawn body parts, which are jumbled in a heap on a shelf mounted high on the wall. Lois Lane, meanwhile, is reduced to her hair, a molded wig on a stand, which was rendered in chocolate for the opening party.
The Mississippi River flows along in another painting where the waves represent the stages of man, from youth to death, all carrying a coffin in the shape of a house. Standing nearby a mannequin of man wears a suit painted with the pastel river scenes.
Despite the many references to pop culture, Shaw attacks deep issues, referencing operas that in turn reference mortality.
Shaw has long been concerned with such issues but this year there is a very real reason for his long hard look at the fragile human condition. His closest friend, Mike Kelley, took his own life. The two came from Detroit, formed their own rock band Destroy All Monsters, and attended Cal Arts at the same time. They remained close despite Kelley's troubling lengthy depression. It would not be correct to say that Shaw's art is about this dark moment but neither would it be correct to say that it had no effect.
In any case, this is a serious exhibition conducted in an occasionally goofy and absurdist tone. And the preparatory drawings in the upstairs gallery are splendid, testimony to Shaw's growth as a draftsman. For more information, go to blumandpoe.com.
On a slightly different topic, Shaw's talented wife, Marnie Weber, will discuss her work and her clown installation at MOCA tonight at 7pm. Go to moca.org.
Jim Shaw, Timeline, 2013; Acrylic on canvas; 60 1/8 x 179 1/2 inches (152.7 x 455.9 centimeters); Courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles