Meanwhile, back at Mass MoCa

I’ve been meaning to write a follow-up to my brief discussion of my cousin Jim Shaw’s huge exhibit out at Mass MoCa. (It’s an exhibit that is so big, it takes more than one blog post.) They actually reviewed Jim’s show in this past Friday’s Boston Globe, under the headline “Jim Shaw’s subconscious runs amok at Mass MoCa.” It is a very positive review. The Globe art critic, Sebastian Smee, states “At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Jim Shaw takes on faith – and doubt – in a body of work that captures, better than any I have seen in years, what the writer Phillip Roth called ‘the indigenous American berserk.’ The exhibit, organized by Mass MoCa’s DEnise Markonish, might prove to be the show of the summer.”
He goes on: “It addresses not only credulity and collapse, but fantasy and absurdity, demagoguery and corruption, protest and pathology. It delves into Shaw’s personal biography, his skepticism, his compulsive creativity. And it is absolutely, utterly hilarious.”
Later in the lengthy review, Smee describes a room that I wanted to say more about myself. It’s a room dominated by a giant cartoon rendering of a 50;s superheroes “midsection” shall we say. The rest of the room mis taken up with a series of drawings made by Jim’s father, my Uncle Mark, after he enrolled in the Famous Artists’ Correspondence Course. These drawings, all course assignments, have critiques by one of the instructors at the school, pointing out the flaws in each particular drawing. When Jim was showing the room to me, he commented that he thought a couple of the drawings were quite good, but the instructors had to point out flaws anyway. After all, if you didn’t need to improve, why would you still be taking the correspondence course?
This got me thinking about my family. Jim’s and my grandfather was a man named Walter W. Shaw, a largely self-educated artist who ran an advertising agency in Rochester NY and then became the art director of a very successful company. On top of that, he had an equally successful career as a fine artist, with his watercolor landscapes and prints displayed at the local art museum and selling for decent prices in the area.
All the grandchildren were encouraged to be creative in my family – in large part due to the influence of my grandfather. I’ve written novels and short stories, Jim has a successful career in fine art, and one of Jim’s sisters, Nancy, has had a very popular run of children’s books beginning with “Sheep in a Jeep.” My parents tried their hand at painting, as did my Uncle Mark, but they all seemed to leave it behind while they raised their families. Mark had a high level job doing “package design” for Dow Chemical, which is essentially commercial art. Later in life – I think after he retired, but I’m not exactly sure – Mark went back to painting as a hobby.
Jim’s father had never told him he had enrolled in the correspondence course. Jim only found the exercises after his dad had passed away. It seems that, whatever his successes, my uncle wanted to be an artist just like his father (and, eventually, just like his son) but that goal was denied to him. He raised a family, had a successful career working for a major company, achievements that were expected from people who had fought in World war II and had returned home to make this country a “better place.” But (I’m guessing) he had a secret dream that never was fulfilled.
At the far end of this gallery, as I’ve said, there is a large drawing of (perhaps) Superman’s -ahem- crotch. In the picture that I’ve attached to this post, the area looks black, as if it was painted that way. But that is an optical illusion. When you get close to the wall, you realize the blackness is only an absence of light. The area is open, and when you look inside you see glowing rocks in a variety of colors scattered across the floor. Jim told me he based the colors on the various shades of Kryptonite, remnants of the planet that first gave Superman his powers, but later were capable of harming the hero or changing him in unexpected ways.
I won’t speculate about the meaning of all this (I do have my opinion). But for me, it’s an interesting reflection on our family’s history.
Did I mention that I really liked the show? Jim’s art will stay on display until next January.IMG_6786

2 thoughts on “Meanwhile, back at Mass MoCa

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