Artists Habitat

L.A. Habitat: Jim Shaw

Jim Shaw in his Altadena studio.


L.A. Habitat is a weekly series that visits with 16 artists in their workspaces around the city.

This week’s studio: Jim Shaw, Altadena, Los Angeles.

As an artist, Jim Shaw is difficult to classify. Shaw’s practice includes painting, drawing, and sculpture as well as showing his prolific and ever-growing collection of found objects. (His 1991 show “Thrift Store Paintings” was recently restaged for his recent New Museum survey in New York, “The End Is Here.”)

In 1976 Shaw moved to the West Coast from Michigan to attend grad school at CalArts. “I was seeing movies that were made at CalArts at the Ann Arbor Film Festival and liked them,” he told me. “Mike [Kelley] was applying to grad school there and I applied too and got in and moved out for that reason.” He graduated with an M.F.A. in 1978 and decided to stay in Los Angeles. “I didn’t have the energy to move to New York afterward, which an ambitious artist may have done,” he said. “But it was such a dead art world then that it didn’t matter.”

Situated on a quiet residential street, Shaw’s studio space is located north of Pasadena, approximately 15 miles northeast of downtown L.A. “By its very nature, Los Angeles should be spread out because of earthquakes,” Shaw said. He noted that the cost of living is the most obvious thing to have changed about California since he arrived 40 years ago. “Now you can’t afford to live here. It’s a problem when the people who have the ideas can’t afford to live in a place,” he said. “Driving and parking are a challenge out here, too. I just don’t go to the Westside anymore if I can avoid it because it’s too crowded.”

When I visited his studio last December, Shaw was preparing for a trip to Taiwan and Tokyo with his daughter. “The last time I was there was during the Destroy All Monsters ‘Noise Music’ tour in the mid ’90s,” he said. Along with Kelley, Shaw was a founding member of that Detroit-based band, and he still makes music, or at least tries to. “I keep trying to do this prog-rock opera,” he said. “I keep running out of time, or money, or both.”

Shaw’s work is currently on view in the exhibitions “Rather Fear God” at Praz-Delavallade and “On Verra Bien” at Galerie Du Jour Agnès B, both in Paris. In June his work will appear in the exhibition “Maison de la poise” at Galerie Du Jour Agnès B, and “Realisms” at the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. When I asked if he had anything else coming up, he said, “Recently we paid off all our debts and mortgages…. I’m getting old. I have to prepare for the end.”

Below, a look around Shaw’s Altadena studio.


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