Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974)

Charles Green Shaw (1892-1974). Light Space, 1960. Gouache on paper sheet, 6 x 9 inches (image), 9 x 11 inches (sheet). Signed in picture plane, lower left, and in sheet margin. Unframed and unmounted. Provenance: collection of J.W. Phillips.



Birth place: NYC

Death place: NYC

Addresses: NYC

Profession: Painter, writer, illustrator, designer

Studied: Yale Univ. (Ph.B., 1914); Columbia Univ., 1915; ASL; with Thomas Hart Benton & George Luks.

Exhibited: Salons of Am.; Valentine Gal., NYC, 1934 (first solo), 1938 (solo); S. Indp. A., 1935; Chicago AC, 1938; SFMA, 1938; SAM, 1938; Am. Abstract Artists, 1937-46; AIC, 1943; CI, 1945; WMAA, 1945-63; Fed. Mod. P.S., 1942-46; Inst. Mod. Art, Boston, 1945; Gal. Living Art, NY, 1938; Art of Tomorrow Mus., 1940; Passedoit Gal., 1945; Galerie Pierre, Paris, 1936; Mayor Gal., London, 1936; Berkshire Mus., 1940; 8 x 8 Exh., PMA, 1945; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Hemisfair, San Antonio; AFA traveling exhib. to Europe & Japan; Century Assn. (first prize for painting); Nantucket Art Assn., 1958 (prize), 1960 (first prize); Corcoran Gal biennial, 1961; PAFA Ann., 1966; Bertha Schaefer Gal., NYC, 1973; R. York Gal., NYC, 1987 (1930s abstractions)

Member: Am. Abstract Artists; Fellow Int. Inst. Arts & Letters; Nantucket AA (executive committee)

Work: PMA; BMA; Detroit Inst. Art, MI; MoMA; MMA; Guggenheim Mus; WMAA

Comments: Publications: author, New York Oddly Enough” (1938); “The Giant of Central Park” (1940); “Moment of the Now” (1969); also, articles and covers for Vanity Fair, The Smart Set, and The New Yorker. Illustrator: “The Milk that Jack Drank” (1944); “Black and White” (1944); “It Looked Like Spilt Milk” (1945); poster for Shel-Mex Ltd.

Sources: WW73; WW47; exh. cat., R. York Gal. (NYC, 1987); American Abstract Art, 198; Falk, Exh. Record Series.

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 nonrepresentational 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.