Hong Kong Spotlight

26 - 30 November 2020
The Man Machine paintings emerged from Shaw’s interest in hair as a source of power. In spite of their absurdity, wigs have historically remained symbols of European authority and control.

On the occasion of Hong Kong Spotlight by Art Basel, Simon Lee Gallery is proud to present a solo booth of works from Jim Shaw’s iconic Man Machine series.

Since the early 1970s Shaw has worked in cycles, many of which are still ongoing. Produced in tandem with long-running series of top-hatted men and profiles of facial hair from the gilded age, the Man Machine works exemplify Shaw's rigorous research processes and systematic interrogation of cultural detritus. He employs strategies of the absurd to bring into sharp focus themes such as failing economies and political corruption, deftly revealing the underbelly of society whilst commenting on the construction of individual and collective identity.

The Man Machine paintings emerged from Shaw’s interest in hair as a source of power. In spite of their absurdity, wigs have historically remained symbols of European authority and control. In opposition, Shaw identifies the wig as a metaphor for the waning authority of the individuals who wear them. In this recent group of works, each character’s face is framed by a hairstyle favoured by ‘pompous’ men of the 1890s. Their facial features obscured by industrial parts or electrical appliances; a signature motif for the artist. The ‘machines’ belong to the post-war era, when they were considered a symbol of economic prowess. The periodical juxtaposition serves to refract the schisms of the present, an observation that concludes ‘we’ are evolving to become more mechanical and less human, whilst the antiquated patriarchal traditions attempt to preserve their relevance.

These new works are painted upon theatrical scenic backdrops from the 1940s and 50s, sourced by the artist. Once cut down and stretched, the readymade canvases carry with them a sense of their history. Subsequently, the Man Machine is an image of masculine governance from the past which desperately clings onto its power in the present. Having once stated that one could ‘understand the meaning of life through misinterpretation’, Shaw’s practice seems consciously layered and complex in its effort to liberate the minds of both artist and viewer.