Humor in Art
I’m really enjoying having new works by Richard Shaw in the gallery. His work rewards extended viewing – the longer you look, the more you begin to recognize the artist’s sense of humor. While Shaw’s technical prowess is certainly dazzling, his trompe l’oeil still lifes are more than just an exercise in verisimilitude. Shaw inserts personal references and social commentary into his whimsical compositions. Look closely at some of the book titles he’s chosen for his book-jars – you’ll find “Bad Art of the 90’s,” and “A Treasury of Station Wagon Living,” which has been stamped, somewhat ominously, as “reviewed for contraband.”
Past Habits, a work from 2010, cracks a gentle joke about a former smoker. Nestled inside an old King Edward Specials cigar box is a pack of Camel cigarettes and a few extinguished matches. Perhaps the fictitious owner of these cigarettes has tucked them away for an occasional, and surreptitious, indulgence. Small jokes like these permeate Shaw’s work, as they challenge viewers to imagine a history behind the scenes he arranges and renders in porcelain.
Another ceramic artist with a pronounced sense of humor is Adrian Saxe, who recently gave a talk with Shaw at the gallery. The clue to Saxe’s many jokes can often be found in the titles of his pieces, like his 2004 piece Les Rois du Monde Futur. Translating to “Kings of the Future World,” this work features a flashy red surface, which on closer inspection reveals itself to be a decorative motif of insects. The vessel’s lid is crowned with Chinese fighting crickets. Riffing off the idea that insects’ resilience will allow them to survive the end of the world, Saxe has created an elaborate homage to creatures not usually associated with prestige.