Ev­ery­thing is in flux

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - Paul ShaPiro

Over five decades or so, artist Paul Shapiro — a for­mer gui­tarist and founder of the ’60s rock band The Hal­lu­ci­na­tions — has shifted from Ab­stract Ex­pres­sion­ism through land­scape paint­ing and por­trai­ture and back to ab­strac­tion in his work. Shapiro be­came in­ter­ested in art when he vis­ited the School of the Mu­seum of Fine Arts in Bos­ton in 1958 and was in­spired by the stu­dent work he saw there. A na­tive of Mas­sachusetts, Shapiro switched ed­u­ca­tional tracks — he was study­ing bi­ol­ogy — and headed to New York to study art. He soon re­turned to the Mu­seum School in Bos­ton and em­barked on a ca­reer paint­ing and teach­ing. It was af­ter see­ing an ex­hibit of ex­pres­sion­ist work in Paris in 1970 that Shapiro, who up to that time had been mak­ing only ab­stract work, be­gan do­ing more rep­re­sen­ta­tional paint­ings. He ex­per­i­mented with imag­i­nary land­scapes that a friend said looked like de­pic­tions of New Mex­ico, and in 1977, he took his first trip to the Land of En­chant­ment, set­tling in Santa Fe per­ma­nently in the early 1980s.

“It’s kind of like get­ting a life­time achieve­ment award,” Shapiro said of the Gover­nor’s Award for Ex­cel­lence in the Arts. “They even took one of my paint­ings and made it into the poster for this year’s awards, and that’s great, be­cause it’s not one of my land­scapes but one of my more ab­stract works.”

A ret­ro­spec­tive of his works from 1970 to 1990, ap­pro­pri­ately ti­tled The Land­scape Years, was shown at Cline Fine Art in 1992. Shapiro’s land­scapes and por­traits are Fau­vist-like works that em­pha­size a strong use of color, with sub­jects painted in a way that echoes the prim­i­tivism seen in the work of Paul Gau­guin. One can de­tect an affin­ity with other painters, as well, such as Van Gogh, Munch, and, more re­cently, Francis Ba­con. Ex­pres­sion­ism never re­ally seemed to leave Shapiro’s paint­ings, even when he was do­ing more fig­u­ra­tive work. Shapiro met with suc­cess paint­ing New Mex­ico’s scenery but re­turned to ab­stract forms in­spired by cal­lig­ra­phy and some­times in­cor­po­rat­ing col­lage.

Shapiro never seems com­fort­able do­ing one thing over and over again, in the man­ner of many artists who, hav­ing met with a mod­icum of suc­cess, set­tle into a rou­tine. His work has many moods and touches on many styles with­out fully em­brac­ing them, adding up to a body of work that can­not be eas­ily clas­si­fied.

The artist’s ca­reer has been marked by a se­ries of dra­matic shifts, in­clud­ing a sig­nif­i­cant re­turn to ab­strac­tion. “That hap­pened in 1990,” he said. “The bound­ary around rec­og­niz­able forms I found very lim­it­ing, and I had to free my­self from that ma­trix.” His 2006 show Quan­tum­scapes, at Zane Ben­nett Con­tem­po­rary Art, show­cased a se­ries of fluid, neb­ula-like im­ages that re­sem­ble in­ter­stel­lar rivers of stars and dust. “That was the re­sult of an­other rad­i­cal shift in my work that hap­pened about six and a half years ago,” Shapiro said. “The quan­tum paint­ings look like en­ergy forms about to shift into mat­ter. But that’s re­ally just a metaphor.”

Shapiro’s open-ended, ex­per­i­men­tal style en­com­passes dif­fer­ent medi­ums and tech­niques. Yet even the artist’s more nonob­jec­tive work seems sug­ges­tive at times of por­trai­ture or land­scape, as though the essence of his for­mer work still speaks through his paint­ings, de­spite his dra­matic break with rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al­ism. Shapiro is a painter still will­ing to take chances, al­ways striv­ing for new means of ex­pres­sion.

— Michael Abatemarco

Paul Shapiro: White Void, 1996, oil on can­vas, 36 x 30 inches

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