Chris Shaw




Recombinant I (2-Part)

Household and acrylic

paint on canvas, mirror

screw / 223 x 152cm / 2017


Recombinant II (2-Part)

Household, acrylic,

spray paint on canvas

223 x 152cm / 2017


Recombinant III (2-Part)

Household, acrylic, spray

paint on canvas, mirror screw

223 x 152cm / 2017




Chris Shaw: Your recent paintings are created using decorating rollers and washing-up scourers. You print and roll and spray paint rather than brush it on. What's wrong with brushes?


Chris Shaw: Nothing at all. I might use brushes again at some point but I've made a concerted effort to get away from a hand-made sort of painterly expression. They're still hand-made but they're a bit more automatic. A bit more printed. I visited painter Michael Simpson recently at his studio and he told me he was a painter rather than an artist. I knew what he meant but for me it feels better the other way around.


If it's not painting then what is it?


It's play, but play can be organised and serious, I think. It's a game where I say "ok, you're not allowed to use brushes for a bit". There's still plan and thought but I got seriously paralysed by the process and I had to ask myself: "Chris, what are you doing this for?" and the answer came back that I've always done it. I've always enjoyed paint and creating stuff. My brother never did, he preferred computers. But I liked paint and crayons - this is what I do. I thought getting rid of brushes might stir things up.


Did you find, without brushes, the process of making these new pieces more enjoyable?


Broken down to their constituent parts, these are not new creations. This show is made up of work that has been exhibited in the past two years but never in the order it is here. What is new is the idea of taking the top or bottom half of one prop and attaching it to the top or bottom half of another prop. That potential was always there. What's new is this recombination. What's new is the decision to go through with this mix and match approach.


Did you just refer to your paintings as 'props'?


I do sometimes. I think of them like that but not everyone likes me using that word about them. Using the word 'prop' as a way to describe my work stems from a conversation Matthew Collings had with Ken Weathersby on Facebook about the Agnes Martin Retrospective at Tate Modern a couple of years back. Matthew Collings said Martin's works looked like props in a play about Agnes Martin… as if there'd been a plane crash and all her works had gone down with it and Tate staff had been up all night knocking some new ones together. Ha! Such a funny idea and I was really taken with it.


How does calling them 'props' as opposed to 'paintings' actually change anything, though?


It's about attitude. First thing I did, as I say, was to dump the brushes. No more being painterly from my wrist or elbow. I thought about kids in play school… and I thought about Tony Hart and that whole novelty side of painting - sponging and potato prints and all that stuff. I also decided to have them split into two parts. It felt freeing to put a breach or a fault in them from the outset. But that was partly to do with a lack of space to make bigger work, too.


What sort of paint do you use?


If I had money I'd use acrylic but it's more expensive for what you get and I don't like those tiny tubs, so I buy big tins of household paint which Alex Pollard (you can view Alex's work on this site) tells me is a bit of a nineties thing to do but I use it because it's cheap for the volume you get. It's not plastic enough I suppose but it's ok so long as I don't let the layers build up too much.


Even with this new attitude and approach, though, you must come up against new problems that frustrate the process?


Always, yes, but that's good. That's what stops it from being glib, I hope. It's still always difficult to know what to do in terms of what to paint, and that really hasn't been worked out yet even with this new approach and attitude. The synthesis of the last two bodies of work in this current show, though, is some sort of development, I think.


I tend to think because I am using elementary sorts of approaches as a way to make this work that there ought to be a sophisticated aspect to them and so I can overcomplicate them. I suppose I do this to make up for all the silly stuff to do with using washing-up sponges instead of brushes. Occasionally, I look at an artist like Daniel Buren and think: "maybe I could just do stripes", ha!


Could you?


I don't think so. There's repetition always involved in what I do but there's so much digression. I plan to do this but it ends up like that, sort of thing. I always try to plan the work in photoshop but it goes its own way as soon as you start making. I don't think that can ever change for me.


Who are your biggest influences?


The usual suspects. Warhol definitely. I like the horrible late David Hockney paintings everyone hates. I like Picasso. Pop stars are influential to me too. Michael Jackson. I like the way he would wear stage costumes around the house. Full make-up. Ha! He got totally lost in the artifice. My favourite group from when pop music was important to me is Suede. These sorts of people knew how to sequence their records. Singles and album tracks working together perfectly. Their LP Coming Up had a massive influence on me. They knew about pacing. Great cover art etc. You've got to be bold with how you turn yourself out, especially if you're a little mousey thing like me.


Can you recommend any articles, essays or books?


I always ask Three Works artists this and now I regret it! I don't read, I'm sorry to say. I used to when I lived in London and spent most of my life on buses. Reading had a good impact on me and it taught me how to write reasonably well. But I haven't read a book in seven years.


Books that had an impact before though include John Pilger's Hidden Agendas. I liked Jean Rhys. I fell majorly for Virginia Woolf's novels. I'd say Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse were important to me. I always read her with a study guide though but I did respond to the rhythms in her prose with or without help. I didn't always know what she was going on about but I was definitely hypnotised by how she organised her words and chapters. Modernist novels these days though would have me snoring in five minutes flat.