Another artist I’m happy to be featuring in Frank’s International House of Ceramics, Part Three, is Richard Shaw. Born in Hollywood in 1941, Shaw has spent most of his life in the Bay Area, where he has lived, worked and taught since the 1960s. The last time we showed his work at the gallery was for his 2009 exhibition Still Life, so it’s exciting to have new examples of his signature trompe-l’oeil arrangements.
Shaw renders the detritus of everyday life, including books, art supplies, cigars, playing cards and half-eaten apples in porcelain with overglaze decals, achieving a stunning level of realism. Leah Ollman, of the Los Angeles Times, describes his work in cinematic terms, writing that “Under Shaw’s direction, clay is the consummate actor, channeling identities with such conviction that we forget, momentarily, what’s real and what’s a different kind of real.” The works challenge the viewer to examine objects closely. Shaw intends for his art to inspire this kind of diligent looking, saying in a 2006 interview with Richard Whittaker that his work “makes you look at things. It makes you have a new experience rather than the same old experience.”
There’s something enchantingly counterintuitive in Shaw’s determination to reproduce real and often ephemeral objects in the demanding medium of porcelain. His still lifes have a haphazard quality, as though the objects have been set down momentarily and are awaiting the return of their owner. Maria Porges of Art in America addresses this in her review of Shaw’s 2000 exhibition at Braunstein/Quay Gallery:
“There’s a casual immediacy about Shaw’s compositions that belies the incredibly labor intensive nature of their making. What appears to be improvised is created through careful orchestration and painstaking labor in several stages. Ironically, many of his subjects are relatively ephemeral in nature and would never, under normal circumstances, last as long as their clay simulacra.”
Shaw skillfully combines the stuff of daily life into whimsical still lifes that appropriate mass culture while also drawing on personal experiences and memories. Michael Schwager gets to the heart of Shaw’s body of work, writing in his essay for the Richard Shaw: Four Decades of Ceramics catalogue that “it honors modesty and humility and embodies an almost Zen-like state of mindfulness, in which the artist sees beauty, simplicity, and honesty in the familiar—and often invisible—things that surround us in our everyday lives.”