Arts & Theater

Shaw’s witty mix of sculptures and paintings amuses and amazes

The degree of craftsmanship Richard Shaw brings to his work is astounding. Every element of “Gold Rush 1849” is believable.
The degree of craftsmanship Richard Shaw brings to his work is astounding. Every element of “Gold Rush 1849” is believable.

When you walk into b. sakata garo this month, you are greeted by a decidedly odd figure. Richard Shaw’s “Willow Ware Lady” mimics the classical contraposto stance of Greek sculpture, but there the relationship ends.

Shaw’s willowy woman is an assemblage of strange parts: a head made of an inverted can of Great Northern Beans; a long narrow neck and chest formed from a curved branch; slim hips topped by a paunchy but pretty tummy made of a Chinese willow ware jar; an inverted blue bowl that serves as a mini-skirt; assorted pieces of wood and broken tools that form arms and legs, hands and feet.

But wait. The label says the lady is made of glazed porcelain clay. It’s hard to believe that any of her cobbled together body except the Chinese jar and blue bowl could be made of clay, especially porcelain, a fragile white clay body that is extremely hard to work with. But Richard Shaw’s ingenious and masterful approach to creating trompe l’oeil (fool the eye) ceramic sculpture pulls it off again and again.

Ranging from “Sliding House of Pencils with Seated Figure,” a miniature log cabin of yellow pencils precariously sliding off a ring binder labeled “Papermaking,” to a tenuous, completely believable house of cards sitting on a used book, his witty deceptions bring together sculpture, illusionistic painting, and Dadaist assemblage in works that simultaneously amuse and amaze us.

The degree of craftsmanship Shaw brings to his work is astounding. Every element of “Gold Rush 1849” is believable. A bottle of shellac with a 49er gold miner on its label sits atop a book with a marbled cover. The bottle is surrounded by dominoes, poker chips, a pink and gray ink and pencil eraser, a coin and a piece of stale soda cracker so realistic, you’re tempted to pick it up. They rest on the left page of a thick book opened with a pencil in its crease and a fragile, fallen, autumn leaf on its meticulously printed right page.

Shaw’s wonderful command of color is evident in the various shades of blue — teal, aquamarine, and a subtle gray-blue — in the figure of a man with a ball of twine for a head and a coke bottle body. A brilliant collision of colors enlivens a pointing figure sitting on a stack of plates that has patent leather black hair, a gouged redwood head and neck, a gray torso with a small reproduction of a quaint landscape painting, a chrome green arm, and multicolored fingers made of the tools of an artist’s trade.

Sharing the space at Barry Sakata’s gallery, Richard Shaw’s wife Martha Shaw exhibits a number of small porcelain pieces that she calls “Scholar’s Towers.” Arrayed on shallow shelves, they range from stacked minimalist rectangles with meticulous red dots or blue rice grain patterns to cruder iterations in orange, pink and white. I liked best a dark tower with a red reflection poised on a gold base with a red line between the tower and the base. I also liked a purple and aqua tower on a gray base and a dark metallic tower of stacked gray rectangles that made me think of a miniature version of Donald Judd’s boxes.

Richard and Martha Shaw also show a series of collaborations on porcelain plates with matte glazes that include a gray plate with a dark gray rectangle and a line drawing of a house and tree, a blue plate with a yellow rim and fragments of torn playing cards (the King of Spades and Jack of Diamonds), and a blue and yellow plate with a painting of a pink house under a turbid gray sky.

If you go

What: Richard and Martha Shaw Porcelain Ceramics

Where: b. sakata garo, 923 20th Street

When: Through December 1. Noon to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.

Admission: Free.

Information: (916) 447-4276.

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