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Art Review


Close-up, they are no less impressive. Shaw’s technical skill is astounding, and you can easily get lost marvelling at the beauty and intricate detail of the flora and fauna he has crafted from acrylic, enamel, glitter and rhinestones. But look closer still and you begin to notice things you had not previously seen. In amongst the delicate foliage, strange hybrid beasts, with wild eyes and bared teeth, hack at one another with raised swords. Blood-spattered heads fall to the ground. Birds peck at disembodied faces and single eyeballs on red stalks proliferate like weeds.


The effect is disorientating to say the least, but this “push-pull” is at the heart of Shaw’s work and a large part of what makes it, and him, so fascinating. You find yourself wondering what motivates him to create such contradictory scenes that at once encompass intense natural beauty, violence, sexual deviance and gore. Titles such as “Absence of God” and “Paradise Lost” give some clues and encourage you to draw your own conclusions.


Shaw has referred to his works as a personal diary – expressing dreams, fears and fantasies. He has said that the fantastical worlds he has created can be read:


“as a commentary on my own experience of living in this society, and of being alive.”


Not all of his work, however, will appeal to everyone. Some pieces seem to strain the boundaries of taste and decorum, going for more out-and-out shock value. The painted bronze sculpture entitled “Adam” is a good example – it depicts a giant, jewel-encrusted lobster in a violent, sexual embrace with a bird-headed man. Though the lobster is overlaid with a gamut of beautiful, semi-precious stones (black diamonds, sapphires and rubies), the overall effect is nevertheless disturbing, and closer inspection only renders it more repulsive.


But one can argue that truly great art ought to provoke a response, whether intellectual or emotional – and this exhibition easily does both. Unusual, astonishing, provocative, we believe you are unlikely to see anything else quite like it.


Better yet, Shaw’s vision is not limited to the 28 pieces which adorn the gallery’s interior. His imagination is so grand, so expansive, it is matched only by his generosity. Thanks to Shaw, Mosley Street has been invigorated with a splash of welcome colour. Willow and driftwood twine through the railings that run round the outside of the gallery and everywhere delicate, bright flowers bloom and burst forth as if to proclaim: “Spring is finally here.”


Unlike Adam inside, the overall effect is immediately cheering, and for that alone, we cannot thank him enough.


manchestergalleries.org A selection of Absence of God VII, 2008 The Map of My Entire life, by Rob Ryan forces us to 63 words and images by Alaka Prodhan


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