It’s been a crazy year for Jim Shaw. In January, having drastically downsized his legendary atelier community in the wake of the economic crash, he moved out of the studio that had produced some of Los Angeles’s most ambitious and monumental artworks of the past decade. He took the opportunity to deaccession much of his equally legendary hoard of pop-cultural ephemera — we’re talking tons of pocketbooks, vinyl LPs, vintage magazines, religious pamphlets, board games, collectible figurines, and so on — much of which had served as source material for his feverish postmodern appropriations. Two days later, the body of his longtime art comrade (and collaborator in the seminal noise band Destroy All Monsters), Mike Kelley, was discovered, an apparent suicide that the L.A. art world has not yet fully digested. So much for clearing the decks.
Named an executor of Kelley’s estate, and the only artist on the board of the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, Shaw found himself enmeshed in the minutiae of his good friend’s legacy when he was supposed to be not only producing new work for solo exhibitions at Metro Pictures, Simon Lee, and his new L.A. dealer, Blum & Poe, but also sorting out the particulars for a large-scale midcareer survey that opens November 9 and runs through February 17 at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, in Gateshead, England, where last year’s Turner Prize exhibition was held. I caught up with Shaw in the midst of his hectic schedule at his new, streamlined work space, sandwiched between a liquor store and a beauty salon in a strip mall in Altadena, a few minutes northeast of downtown L.A., and asked him how Kelley’s death had affected him. He declined to go into detail about his legal responsibilities but was forthcoming about the personal impact.
“One thing it’s done is make me realize that for a lot of my life as an artist, I’ve looked at the people that came before me and thought they were really good, but they made this mistake, and I don’t want to make it,” he says, glancing up from daubing paint on one of his signature torn-photorealist portraits. “Of course, I made other mistakes, but — looking at Mike and what he achieved…he achieved a lot, but he paid a huge price for it, and I don’t want to pay that price. I don’t want to continue to kill myself to make this art and let the rest of my life go down the tubes."
“It’s made me less materialistic, too, looking at Mike’s library, his fabulous library, then looking at my fabulous collection of crap. I was already getting rid of it at the time because I had to move out of that studio. But now I’m even more like — if I read a book, I’m not going to keep it forever; I’m going to recirculate it. I’ll just keep the ones that have reference material that I need to keep going back to. That’s why I don’t want to get caught up in making the prog-rock opera if it means going into debt. I’ll keep it as an ideal, but it may never get completed.”
Yes, you read that right: Prog. Rock. Opera. The crowning Gesamtkunstwerk in Shaw’s long-term project exploring the mythological, historical, and cultural manifestations of a fictive 19th-century new American religion called Oism, the long-rumored multimedia extravaganza was gearing up to full production mode in 2008 when the Wall Street apocalypse struck. The originally envisioned debut of the work at the CAPC in Bordeaux morphed into the acclaimed “Left Behind” exhibition there, dominated by Shaw’s ridiculously complex allegorical paintings on gigantic found theatrical backdrops, predicated, at least in part, on an inspired associative leap equating the fundamentalist Christian rapture with the plight of the American working class — a curiously topical leitmotif that seemed to have been lurking in the material all along...
Read the rest of Mad World: Jim Shaw’s Wondrous and Difficult Year at the ArtInfo site or in the November print issue of Modern Painters
Jim Shaw: The Rinse Cycle & You Think You Own Your Stuff But Your Stuff Owns You (Thrift Store Paintings)
9 November 2012 - 17 February 2013
Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art
Gateshead Quays, South Shore Road
Gateshead NE8 3BA, UK
I would also like to draw your attention to this article in the NYTimes about the insane treehouse Tim Hawkinson built for his daughter Clare, which was an piece I wanted to write, but Carol Kino beat me to the punch...
Images: Jim Shaw; Mall Culture (from Strange Früt: Rock Apocrypha designed by Shaw & Mike Kelley for DAM); Shaw in his new L.A. studio; The Rinse Cycle 2011, acrylic on muslin; Untitled 2008; Capitol Viscera Appliances 2011, acrylic on muslin.
Shaw portrait photos by Kevin Scanlon; Clare’s treehouse photo by Tierney Gearon