Making, Doing & Happening
Curated by Simone Zacchini
Just as nothing in existence is given simply and neutrally, prior to the rough understanding of what one is dealing with, in the same way the being of existence is time because it is language. Existence is time because it is made in the time of interpretation, which is the time of discourse by which it opens up to the world that accepted it from the beginning and called it into conversation with other existences.
Mario Ruggenini and Luigi Perissinotto, Tempo, evento e linguaggio
A decade after his first exhibition in Rome, Dan Shaw-Town (Huddersfield, UK, 1983) is back at 1/9unosunove for his third solo show, with a preview of a series of works on canvas that mark the beginning of a new research phase for the English artist, who has lived and worked in New York since 2008.
Initially settled in Brooklyn, Shaw-Town has recently moved to Long Island, taking up the historical example of artists such as Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner. His departure from the city had an impact on the creation of these new works, in which, after many experiments on paper and aluminum, for the first time in his career, Shaw-Town works on canvas. The choice of this material, which is much more flexible than the previous ones, allows him to reconnect with painting, even though the artist has never defined himself as a painter in the traditional sense of the term. The main references that can be found in his research are all associated with a material-sculptural (Antoni Tàpies, Alberto Burri, Eva Hesse, J.B. Blunk, Peter Voulkos) or even environmental (Richard Serra, Jannis Kounellis) concept of art making, complemented by various references to post-conceptual art (Christopher Wool, Bruce Conner).
Whilst the choice of canvas is innovative, drawing is still the core of this new production, a characteristic element of all Shaw-Town’s artistic research since his early works, in which the manual execution was turned into a dense geometric tangle that marked the surface until it became worn out by thick layers of graphite. However, in the works on display in the exhibition, the act of drawing becomes less invasive, reduced to a set of minimal graphic traces that occupy the canvas in a non-schematic manner. From this initial, very intuitive and fluid outline, a sequence of “pictorial” actions develops, which – with the use of oil pastels, acrylic colours and grease – transforms the set of basic marks, without any apparent formal planning. Actually, all these marks are linked in a tight cause-effect relationship: each action takes inspiration from the previous one, activating a reciprocal exchange between the “making/doing” of the artistic action and its “happening”.
The idea of realisation is not something that guides the artist a priori, or reflects his work a posteriori, but takes shape precisely when it becomes a sign. In this way, the act of artistic creation is comparable to the linguistic act of its very existence.
The artist tunes in to this idea and tries to make order out of this set of marks, by incorporating it into a broader linguistic reflection. Shaw-Town’s action embraces the event, accepting it as an integral part of the creative process with all the elusive temporality of its hic et nunc. The fleeting perception of time becomes a sign, and the set of sings becomes a language that exposes us to the flow of the present that is the essence of temporality, from which every possible perception of the world is born.
From a practical point of view, this reflection translates into a “stratification” of drawing and painting that outlines an accumulative attitude, both visually and conceptually: nothing is concealed, changes are laid bare, one sign is covered by another, but never erased. In doing so, the work is converted into an embodiment of the generative process inherent in every linguistic sign and, consequently, in every choice made by the artist, who becomes the voice of that language, reproposing it to the world.
Thus, the aesthetic event set up by the work is not interrupted by its manual conclusion. The work does not constitute an independent medium but becomes the tool for an active interpretative questioning of the temporal dimension of its occurrence, which continues with its exhibition and involves the viewer. Each individual work interacts with the others in a continuous cross-reference of possible interpretations: five canvases, all of the same size (184 x 123 cm), are mounted on metal panels and then framed with a thin steel layer; another larger canvas (244 x 213 cm), on the other hand, is set up freely, without any sort of frame, providing a significant tension to the entire exhibition space.
On a perceptual level, Shaw-Town’s set of signs could refer to objects, buildings or bodies, but these are only projections by the viewer of shapes that are interpreted as familiar, although in reality they are pure abstractions. The artist therefore activates a continuous exchange between forms and forms of life, between perspective perception and two-dimensionality, between the tangible object that the work is and the notion of pictorial illusion that the public projects onto it. Thus, in the observer a “seeing” is activated in keeping with an interpretation that expresses the experience of the space-time in which the work exists. In Wittgenstein’s terms, this is a “seeing-as” (sehen als), an experience of “noticing aspects” in which “the flashing of an aspect on us seems half visual experience, half thought» (Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, Part II, section xi).
Shaw-Town ends up constituting a new sensitive dimension of artistic language, in which reflection on the temporal dimension of visual/interpretative experience encompasses the spatiality of the work, in a perceptive union originated on the immaterial threshold of the present.
Dan Shaw-Town (Huddersfield, UK, 1983) lives and works in New York. He holds a BA in Fine Art from London Metropolitan University and an MFA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College, University of London. As well as 1/9unosunove, he have had solo show at MaisterraValbuena (Madrid) and Room East (New York). His work has been featured in major art fairs such as NY Art Book Fair, LISTE Basel, Nada New York and Este Arte (Uruguay). Among his group exhibitions: Word Dance, Denver Museum of Art, Denver (2017); Where Were You, Lisson Gallery London (2014); Jump Cut, Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York (2013); Le Ragioni della Pittura, Malvina Menegaz Foundation, Castelbasso, Italy (2013); Song of Myself, 1/9unosunove, Rome (2013); Graphite, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis (2012).
The exhibition will be on view until Saturday, May 22, 2021