Ernest Shaw’s “The Form of Shadows” exhibition opens at SUNY-Ulster

Ernest Shaw’s Memento Mori, pigment prints, 2018. This series consists of photographs of assemblages of plants, masks, dead crows and other objects from nature and art that commemorate the cycle of life and death.

Following up on his knockout show of paintings, sculpture and drawings in August 2017 at the Arts Society of Kingston, Ernest Shaw will be exhibiting his new photographs at the Muroff-Kotler Visual Arts Gallery at SUNY-Ulster from November 16 to December 14. Shaw got his start as an artist teaching himself how to weld steel in the early 1970s; his subsequent monumental sculptures grace various public sites and museum grounds. While the medium of photography might seem like an odd choice for a sensibility that revels in the physicality and process of carving wood, welding or hammering steel, painting on burlap and rubbing graphite or chalk onto large pieces of paper for tonal effects, and whose figurative imagery revolves around myth, the self and primal archetypes, Shaw’s photographs explore the same terrain, representing a continuum rather than a break from his earlier work.

Selections will be shown from two series. Are We Flesh or Are We Wood consists of a series of photographs depicting the artist’s shadow (for which the exhibition takes its name, “The Form of Shadows”). The images dramatically simplify the human form, which looms over the ground, exaggerated in length and gestural. Indeed, they have a metaphysical charge, referring to “time, memory, gestures, vulnerability and mortality,” as the artist writes. “Psychologically, the shadow worlds are viewed as a projection of denied aspects of the ‘self’ onto an ‘other’…I view these photographs as narrative, our place in this world,” notes Shaw, who besides making art maintains a psychiatry and psychotherapy practice and teaches mediation.


A second body of work, the Memento Mori series, consist of photographs of assemblages of plants, masks, dead crows and other objects from nature and art that commemorate the cycle of life and death. Elegant and spare, the arrangements are transcendent in the way the white ground pivots between surface and infinite space (the two dead crows that appear in many of the works serve as avatars of our own mortality, which refuses to be laid to rest), and formally expressive: the tendrils of grass and other vegetation have the delicacy of deftly drawn graphite lines.

Shaw, who resides in the Town of Kingston, will also be showing several of his earlier large figurative paintings, whose black, looming forms relate to the shadow photographs, as well as some works-on-paper, including a series of small collage/paintings done 20 years ago in Maine: The artist produced one a day over an eight-day vacation. A nine-and-a-half-foot sculpture of a shrouded figure, composed of burlap attached by wire to a wooden post sunk in a concrete base, will also be on display; with the simplest of means the artist has created a haunting presence.

The reception will be held on Friday, November 16 from 5 to 7 p.m. The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and is closed on college holidays.

Ernest Shaw: “The Form of Shadows” opening, Friday, November 16, 5-7 p.m., free, Muroff-Kotler Visual Arts Gallery, SUNY-Ulster, 491 Cottekill Road, Stone Ridge;