Reanimating mythological themes through incidents from political history and popular entertainment in disparate fields that collide in a dreamlike mélange, L.A.-based artist Jim Shaw – whose works are included in such institutions as the Hammer Museum, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and Musée national d’art moderne, Paris – plumbs his own psychological depths only to discover what makes him love work and life.
What historical art figure would you like to have lunch with and why? William Burroughs seems like the most interesting conversationalist.
What did you purchase with the proceeds from your first sale? Maybe a Captain Beefhart album, or some food from Pizza Bob’s.
What words or phrases do you overuse? Since I was a kid, aping the beatniks in Mad, using “like” as a pause while trying to think of what to say next.
How do you know when a work is finished? It depends on if the deadline is near, in which case, the day before pick-up. The piece won’t let me go on unless it feels right.
When and where were you happiest? Apparently before I had to go to school, as I’m always happy in childhood photos, but I think the feeling of separateness from other kids left me sad.
What is your most treasured possession? Probably the Victor Houteff apocalypse charts I got at the PCC (Pasadena City College) flea market.
Where is your ideal escape destination? Sequoia National Park.
What’s the worst survival job you’ve ever had? Hotel restaurant dishwasher. If a meeting served eggs or cherry pie, the material would be a dried glue that wouldn’t come off, and my first night, the night janitor informed me I was responsible for emptying out the trashcan which was too heavy for me to lift and I reached into the liquid garbage to scoop out enough weight so I could lift it and encountered a broken glass ashtray which gashed my hand and I had to walk home in the rain.
What TV series from your youth best describes your approach to life? The Addams Family were a reasonable model of bohemian living, and the Prisoner was a reasonable description of how it felt to be in the world.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? To be a better, happier human being.
What is your most treasured memory? At the age of 12, finding my uncle’s copy of Playboy featuring Ursula Andress nude following her role in Dr. No at my grandfather’s cottage.
What makes you smile? My family, our dog, stand-up comedians (Maria Bamford, Patton Oswalt, Dave Chappelle, etc.)
What makes you cry? Movies where a kid is re-united with their family, songs about how easy love is, murder ballads, actual tragedies.
What is your go-to drink when you toast to a sale? I usually buy a CD compilation if I have a big sale, but Aperol Spritz or Moscow Mule.
After an all-nighter, what’s your breakfast of champions? I no longer do all-nighters. As a creature of habit I make a Trader Joe’s gluten-free waffle with coconut oil, almond butter, and raspberry spread, a bunch of pills (herbs and vitamins), a shot glass of cold brew low acid coffee with goat milk.
Who inspires you? Crazy, obsessive artists and musicians.
What’s your best quality? I try to be a good person.
What’s your biggest flaw? I fail to be a good person.
What is your current state of mind? Worried about the future (incipient fascism, global warming).
What do you consider your greatest achievement? My daughter, but I can’t take credit for her, so the artwork I’ve killed myself to make for the last 50 years.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be? A nice woman.
Jim Shaw’s exhibition, Jim Shaw: Thinking the Unthinkable is at Gagosian January 12 – February 25, 2023. Cover image: (c) Jim Shaw. Photo: Jeff McLane
Visit the artist at Instagram.