Emily Tsingou Gallery, London, UK
Traditionally the preserve of superheroes and anti-heroes, the comic book provides Jim Shaw with a structural framework that, either visibly or invisibly, is central to the works shown at Emily Tsingou Gallery. Comic Book Drawing (1–7) (all works 2006) is a seven-part project, the narrative form of which adds further to Shaw’s pseudo-religion ‘Oism’. The comic tells the Biblical-like story of a scribe and dreamer named Julo. Set in the queendom of O, where figurative representation is prohibited, the Kafkaesque authorities of Oism take offence when Julo proposes to draw a picture of an invented musical instrument. Although the work follows the stylized conventions of the comic medium, its text has been collaged onto the surface of the paper. This piecing-together wryly undermines the work, proposing as it does that the content either has been, or could have been, tampered with or censored – also affirming that Shaw’s interest in the comic book is structural and extends beyond appropriation and reproduction.
Four objects sat on a shelf on the opposite side of the gallery. Each of these was a ‘dream object’ created from ‘dream drawings’ – comic strips produced by Shaw since the early 1990s. In contrast to the Surrealist annotation of the dreamt image, Shaw has re-appropriated the broken timelines and nonsensical sequences of unconscious images that constitute dreams by correlating them with the open and adaptive structural register of the comic book. In the centre of the shelf are two bronze figures, Dream Object (Vomiting Bum) and Dream Object (Begging Bum). Each reclines, and while one has a ring or bowl clasped between clawed hands, the other vomits. Although the figures share the same rough scale, there are discrepancies that imply they are made from a drawn source that refutes their implied mass production as bronzes. Dream Object (Eyeball TV Model) is a cartoon-like object reminiscent of the animated TV show Ren and Stimpy. A bloodshot eyeball pops out from a low-slung 1950s’ television set that owes its contorted, angular perspective to the lines of the original drawing. Dream Object (Spaghetti Foetuses) protrudes from the wall, its fibrous strands fanning outwards like pencil lines, bowing under the weight of gravity. Lodged in its midst are faded pink bubblegum-like blobs. Parasitic and curled, minutely carved detailing reveals rudimentary fingers, as suggested by the title.
The playful subversion and lyrical wit of these objects also inform other works. Two identically sized canvases hang on different walls separated by the ‘Dream Objects’. Untitled (Tamara) depicts the fragmented or ‘exploded’ head of a woman, while Untitled (Grant) shows that of a man. Constructed on bare grounds with loose brushstrokes and muddied palettes, they draw their inspiration from the automated unconscious of the painting of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock. While in one sense the heads ‘explode’ – their distinguishing facial features all existing as detached parts – the regularity of their dispersal militates against any true sense of explosive force.
In the lower space was The Victim Drawing, a large, window-like piece constructed across a series of translucent layers. Overlaid sheets of tissue paper diffuse the drawing, giving it a blurry and ethereal feel. A lone figure stands within an architectural plan drawing of an interior space surrounded by thickly rendered forms that replicate the sculpture Dream Object (Hamburger Tornado) that occupied the floor space directly in front of it. This is a large conical object that emerges from the ground and also appears to hover above it. Plant- or triffid-like, its arching top recedes through a series of tapered coiled sections alluding to craft as much as to B-movie horror.
Extruding further references from the underbelly of American subculture were two sets of paintings, each of which contests the uncertain ground between celebrity and self. The first set depicts high-heeled, bikini-clad, gun-toting girls: Girls with Gun (Sarah, Katrin, Hannah). The second, a group of monochromatic portraits, collectively untitled but individually identified as Jim (Self-Portrait), Ethan and Scott, proposes a lacklustre sense of magazine superstar in which among the cut-out and painted heads the artist casts his own identity. Shaw creates a camouflaged language in which the works interweave rather than affirm any implicit relationship. Untitled (Small Figures Horizontal) replicates the two canvases found upstairs (Untitled (Tamara) and Untitled (Grant)), while, in contrast, across its surface ten tiny painted figures are scattered, hidden flecks against a ground of gestural brushstrokes.
Shaw’s work belongs resolutely to the here-and-now, drawing reference as it does from artistic genres as widely divergent as the sectarian religions that Oism parodies. At the heart of the show is Comic Book Drawing (1–7). In his defence to the authorities the protagonist Julo argues, ‘words alone are inadequate to describe the working of a new invention – images of some sort are also needed’. Shaw’s conscious probing of the unconscious mind has provided a furtive addition not just of image and word but of object too; bronze bum or eyeball, dreamt or otherwise, connections can always be drawn.