Phil Shaw

Dominique Sirois-Rouleau
  • Phil Shaw, Fiction 9, 2009. Photo: courtesy of the artist
  • Phil Shaw, Friction 4, 2009. Photo: courtesy of the artist
  • Phil Shaw, Londonensi Subterraneis, 2012. Photo: courtesy of the artist
  • Phil Shaw, Londonensi Subterraneis, 2012. Photo: courtesy of the artist
  • Phil Shaw, The Group of Eight, 2013. Photo: courtesy of the artist
  • Phil Shaw, The Truth in Black and White with Some Grey Areas, 2014. Photo: courtesy of the artist

Reality Imitated on the Bookshelf

Interested in paradoxes and contradictions in images, Phil Shaw uses archival printmaking techniques to blur the line between real and fictional worlds. Humour is an essential part of his work, allowing him to throw into sharp relief the irony — sometimes cruel, sometimes extravagant — that typifies Western society.

At the heart of Shaw’s practice are realistic illustrations of bookcases that pay tribute to the charm and distinction of the document and yet evince a cynical gaze at contemporary life. The artist works from used books found in shops or flea markets, which he transforms and classifies through Photoshop. The thematic bookcases cover culture, daily life, and the news, and it is their themes that determine the titles and organization of the books. The careful reproduction of the fonts and the book spines, approaching trompe-l’oeil, gives the bookcases their critical value. In effect, Shaw diverts the expression of knowledge inscribed in the symbol of the book by playing with its staging. The authentic titles and their imagined arrangements shed a playful light on the everyday (Londonensi Subterraneis, 2012) and a critical eye on politics (Group of Eight, 2013). The veracity of the titles used by Shaw anchors his work in a rigorous cultural exercise to which even the inventions of the series Fiction and Friction (2009) attest.

In the era of the digital and big data, Shaw’s book-cases look antiquated and romantic because the books are used and their physical placement fluctuates. Through the unique aesthetic of the book, Shaw illustrates intertextuality and materializes plays of cross-influences and interpretations, by linking the strictly formal qualities of the bookcase with its signifying and dogmatic power. The arrangement of the content and the forms produces new associations that reveal and shift the established discourses. As displayed in the series The Truth in Black and White with Some Grey Areas (2015–16), the ingenious combination of form and background weakens beliefs and certainties. Although the book is associated with a sense of obsolescence, on the whole it embodies a persistent and resistant culture of doubt.

Translated from the French by Käthe Roth

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