Chris Shaw

1 Mar 2010 – 7 Mar 2010

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Vyner Street Gallery

London, United Kingdom


Travel Information

  • buses: 55,26,48
  • Bethnal Green/ central line
  • Cambridge Heath
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I Am a Strange Loop


Chris Shaw is not well. Foolish fancies of the imagination create dis-ease in his body. While guts gurgle, a wandering pain is felt in the head, in the heart. Down the left side a numb tingle unleashes untold dread. No doubt, the Romantic notion of the artist as melancholic, neurotic or hysteric no longer has the resonance or persuasiveness it once had. Chris's malady, however, is both a curse and a blessing; an illness and a cure: the catalyst or condition that allows him to function creatively while providing an excuse for the occasional odd behaviour. Most importantly, it is the condition within which he can act, enabling him to reclaim and inhabit portions of time and space given up for dead. The ‘paintings', assembled at home in bed, sit beside drawings composed at work behind the counter: private and public spaces in which dream and daydream encounter and reshape reality. The ‘paintings' are fragile. The surfaces are made primarily out of thin skins of acrylic paint. The impression of canvas weave is illusory, a muted homage to ‘grid' artists such as Agnes Martin and Piet Mondrian. At once, they aim to surpass painting and fall short; keep it vital and question its very existence. More accurately, they are bite-size objects that approach the condition of painting held in the collective imagination: wall-based, rectangular. On the verge of an assertion, they appear to retreat into a catatonic state. Colour is neither joyous nor fresh but manufactured and impersonal. The overly-painted face of a corpse laid out for inspection might be a useful analogy for getting to grips with these dispassionate veils and unblinking masks. Chris's fraught, compulsive, hypochondriac relation to time is what makes him the kind of artist he is. Compressed, concise and reflective, he consoles himself with the thought that each work will soon be complete. Serial composition has become an organising principle for his labours and his life, but there remains the question of how to begin. Using the structure and format of A4 lined paper, a pen and a method of punishment given to belligerent school children, You Breathe In You Breathe Out reflects on the relationship between the natural rhythms of the body, labour, writing and time. It appears to be the ultimate statement of living in the present; the collision of experience and diaristic reflection; a moment of punctual intersection with himself, of perfect discipline and decorum, alone in space. Equally unhappy with the grand narratives of modernism and the cynicism of postmodernism, Chris works within circumstance and confinement — in the workplace and at home; as a public and private citizen; in body and in mind — to palliate feelings of estrangement perhaps, or to mine his own sense of otherness. Perversely, it could be said that his disorientation is a positive force: a struggle for diversity, an opposition to the tyranny of ‘health'. Working against his body's natural inclination to the horizontal, Chris might think his creative habits are a way to control his undoubted hypochondria, to shock himself from his lethargy and assuage his fears. But perhaps it is more accurate to conclude that hypochondria is itself a way of organizing his time. It is, perhaps, a structuring principle masquerading as chaos, resolve disguised as fear, a way of appearing on the stage of his own life as if in the costume of a new character, in a scene he has scripted himself.

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