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 Charles Green Shaw  (1892 - 1974)

About: Charles Green Shaw
 

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: geometric-biomorphic abstraction

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BIOGRAPHY for Charles Shaw
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Birth
1892 (New York City)
 
Death
1974 (New York City)

Lived/Active
New York

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geometric-biomorphic abstraction

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in New York City, Charles Shaw became a significant figure in the history of American abstract art. His work was noted for its clarity of form and architectural construction. In the later part of his life, he turned to Abstract Expressionism.

Shaw was described as a "wealthy man-about-town, poet and minor novelist" before he began to paint seriously when he was in his 30s. His parents died when he was young, and he was raised by an uncle.

He graduated from Yale University and then studied at the Art Students League with Thomas Hart Benton. He also took private lessons from George Luks.

He served in World War I and during much of the 1920s, lived in Europe, writing articles for the New Yorker and Smart Set. Shortly after, he turned to abstract painting and exhibited in important avant-garde shows.

Source:
Michael Zellman, 300 Years of American Art

Biography from D. Wigmore Fine Art, Inc.:
Charles Green Shaw, born into a wealthy New York family, began painting when he was in his mid-thirties. A 1914 graduate of Yale, Shaw also completed a year of architectural studies at Columbia University. During the 1920s Shaw enjoyed a successful career as a freelance writer for The New Yorker, Smart Set and Vanity Fair, chronicling the life of the theater and café society. In addition to penning insightful articles, Shaw was a poet, novelist and journalist. In 1927 he began to take a serious interest in art and attended Thomas Hart Benton’s class at the Art Students League briefly in New York. He also studied privately with George Luks, who became a good friend. Once he had dedicated himself to non-traditional painting, Shaw’s writing ability made him a potent defender of abstract art.

After initial study with Benton and Luks, Shaw continued his artistic education in Paris by visiting numerous museums and galleries. From 1930 to 1932 Shaw’s paintings evolved from a style imitative of Cubism to one directly inspired by it, though simplified and more purely geometric. Returning to the United States in 1933, Shaw began a series of abstracted cityscapes of skyscrapers he called Manhattan Motifs which evolved into his most famous works, the shaped canvases he called Plastic Polygons.

The 1930s were productive years for Shaw. He showed his paintings in numerous group exhibitions, both in New York and abroad, and was also given several one-man exhibitions. Shaw had his first one-man exhibition at the Valentine Dudensing Gallery in New York in 1934, which included 25 Manhattan Motif paintings and 8 abstract works. In the spring of 1935 Shaw was introduced to Albert Gallatin and George L.K. Morris. Gallatin was so impressed with Shaw’s work, he broke a policy against solo exhibitions at his museum, the Gallery of Living Art, and offered Shaw an exhibition there. In the summer of 1935 Shaw traveled to Paris with Gallatin and Morris who provided introductions to many great painters. Shaw regularly spent time with John Ferren and Jean Hélion. The following year Gallatin organized an exhibition called Five Contemporary American Concretionists at the Reinhardt Gallery that included Shaw, Ferren, and Morris, Alexander Calder, and Charles Biederman. The exhibition traveled to Paris at the Galerie Pierre and to London at the Mayor Gallery with A.E. Gallatin replacing Calder as the fifth artist.

During the mid-1930s Charles Green Shaw became fascinated with wood relief paintings and was one of the first abstract artists to use this technique. Shaw was among an early group of American artists who wished to incorporate three dimensional elements into their abstract painting. Ferren did this by carving into his paintings, Biederman used Constructivist methodology to create geometric reliefs, Morris used juxtaposed colors to create vibrations, Pereira painted on glass, and Calder created abstract sculpture. Charles Green Shaw was the only artist to use a technique that resulted in an exploded view of biomorphic abstract shapes. Shaw created compositions of biomorphic forms cut from wood about ¾ inch thick which he sometimes painted and other times varnished and arranged atop another piece of wood to give the composition added depth. These reliefs were produced alongside Shaw’s shaped canvas works, Plastic Polygons, from 1936 to 1938.

In 1937 Shaw became a founding member of the American Abstract Artists and exhibited 6 works in the first annual exhibition at the Squibb Building in April. The 1938 American Abstract Artists’ annual exhibition catalogue contained eleven essays by members with the opening essay by Shaw. His article, “A Word to the Objector,” expressed his profound belief that abstract painting was “an appeal to one’s…aesthetic emotion alone….” Shaw was very active within the group in the early years, editing the catalogues, seeking sponsors for exhibitions, and locating exhibition spaces. Shaw had two solo exhibitions at the Museum of Non-Objective Painting in 1940 and 1941 and served on the Advisory Board of the Museum of Modern Art from 1936 to 1941.

In the later 1930s, Shaw became interested in photography and children’s books. In 1938 Shaw had a series of photographs and trivia on New York published as the book New York- Oddly Enough. Shaw worked on similar photography projects on Paris and London. In 1939 Shaw started working with the publisher W.R. Scott, Inc. and with its editor, Margaret Wise Brown (author of The Runaway Bunny and Good Night Moon), Shaw wrote and illustrated several children’s books, including The Giant of Central Park and a series called The Guess Book. Fellow AAA Member. Esphyr Slobodkina also published her children’s books with W.R. Scott, Inc.

Shaw developed a more expressive brushy style in the 1950s, which were often interpretations of the horizontality of Nantucket vistas. He returned to his roots with hard-edge painting in the 1960s, when his style grew bolder and showed a strong graphic sense. He died in 1974.

Among the collections with works by Charles Green Shaw are the Art Institute of Chicago, IL; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, CA.

Biography from Hollis Taggart Galleries (Artists, R-Z):
During his successful painting career, which spanned four decades of modernism, Charles Green Shaw skillfully explored several abstract idioms. A native New Yorker, Shaw’s early work was in writing; in the 1920s he contributed to publications including the New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

During travels to Europe from 1929 to 1932, he gained first-hand experience with new developments in modern art, and began to devote himself to painting at this time. Shaw had studied at the Art Students League and with George Luks in the mid-1920s, but he was essentially self-taught.

The style Shaw developed by the early 1930s was a hard-edged, crisply defined interpretation of Cubism, which depicted the geometry of urban architecture. In 1935, Shaw met Albert Eugene Gallatin, collector, painter, and founder of the prominent Gallery of Living Art, which was housed at New York University from 1927 until 1942. Gallatin and Shaw, along with George L. K. Morris, were dubbed the “Park Avenue Cubists,” reflecting the group’s wealth and social milieu. It was through this association that Shaw first gained prominence in the art world; he had a solo exhibition at the Gallery of Living Art in 1935 (the museum’s first solo show devoted to any artist) and served on the Museum of Modern Art’s Advisory Committee.

By 1940, Shaw had developed the idea of the “plastic polygon,” a pictorial structure based on simplified architectonic and organic shapes combined with a Cubist grid. Shaw worked with variants of this concept in painting and in wood relief constructions. With the exception of a few depictions of simplified, angular figures in the late 1940s, Shaw’s work remained essentially non-representational for the rest of his career.

In the early 1950s, he broke away from the hard edges and smooth surfaces that characterized his earlier work, and began exploring effects of surface texture and broader brushstrokes in his compositions.  By the middle of the decade and into the 1960s, Shaw employed very bold, slashing brushstrokes that linked his work with Abstract Expressionism. Shaw exhibited with Bertha Schaeffer Gallery nearly every year during the 1960s.  He also showed regularly during this period at the Passadoit Gallery, had solo exhibitions at the University of Louisville and the Century Club, and was included in exhibitions at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Shaw’s work is part of most major collections of American Art, including the Whitney Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Art Institute of Chicago, among many others.

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