Martha Shaw’s paintings and monoprints, displayed in the small gallery space at Anglim/Trimble, command a silent presence. A world of paper cups and plates, and houses in hues of greys, whites and pale yellows are offered as palate cleansers for the eyes (especially after viewing Richard Shaw’s Palissy-esque tableware).
Martha’s disposable plate ware become the subjects of a formalist exercise in which we contemplate each detail of the picture plane, from the dark vertical seam on the shaft of a paper cup to a multi-story house with a slanted roof and dark windows.
Then one begins to observe the playful minutiae that sits adjacent to the main characters: a triangle of a pink and grey plaid tablecloth in the corner of the panel, a hint of blue that peeks over the edge of the table’s surface on which the dishes sit, and a corner of a sheet of white paper peeping from the bottom the picture plane.
Her silkscreen monoprints continue the game of formalist hide-n-seek. This time, we are presented with four squares of bright, saturated colors—green, deep blue, copper brown, white, grey and black—arranged in various orientation and sizes along perpendicular lines (in fact, the artist calls them “four squares”). Originally printed as a sample book, similar to a sample book of fabrics or wrapping paper, they reflect the artist’s inclination toward reducing image-making to its basic elements.
The visitor will not want to eat off Richard Shaw’s dinner plates. His plates and platters are full of sea critters, snakes, and simply put, trash presented as if they have been washed ashore during low tide. These “Low Tide” ceramics employ the humor, skill and trompe l’oeil technique that we have come to expect from the artist, except these objects are a nod to the Renaissance ceramist, Bernard Palissy.
Bernard Palissy (1510-1590) was a champion of the French rustic style. Having spent much of his life between Saintes and Paris, France, nature was a source of aesthetic inspiration for Palissy as well as a source of spiritual enlightenment (he was a devout Calvinist during a period when the Catholic Church reigned). Taking a page from 16th century metal casting, Palissy and his atelier captured and killed live animals before casting them as a mold that would then be adhered to a surface. His dishes, ewers, and basins would be entirely covered with clay seashells, fish, crayfish, snakes and vegetal forms, like barnacles encrusted on the side of a boat.
While Palissy was celebrating God’s works through his carefully posed, over-the-top ceramics, Richard’s plate ware present his critters (cast with plastic toys) and discarded objects as happenstance and familiar to late modern society. On one platter, a paper cup has been knocked over and spilled onto its sandy surface small seashells among a striped snake, broken plastic knife, loose buttons and pen caps, and twigs. It evokes an unfortunate common beach scene: the ocean shore polluted with manmade objects that will outlast a lifetime.
But even in the decay, there is beauty and wonder to be discovered in the humble objects represented in Richard Shaw’s works, much like the feeling one gets looking at Martha Shaw’s quiet paintings.