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The Marsh Gallery examines Kendall Shaw's journey through an artistic career. 

Full Circle

To say life is a journey is an apt cliché for our day-to-day living and birth-to-death existence. For an artist, that journey is often defined by one's art itself. Such is the approach of the current exhibition at the University of Richmond's Marsh Art Gallery. On display until Oct. 2, "Kendall Shaw: A Life's Journey in Art," is a retrospective show of four decades of Shaw's work.

As we move around the gallery, we see how Shaw, in the early 1960s, was interested in abstract expressionism and later in the decade, moved into the arena of minimalism. By the early '70s, he found a way to resolve the two styles with the emergence of the art movement, pattern and decoration. These works are the richest and most provocative in the show. Shaw begins employing a meticulous grid pattern, turned on the diagonal and filled with painted squares. From a distance, these large, square canvases appear to be hanging textiles.

"Nazca" (1980), for example, references Peruvian woven fabrics of South America. The use of rich red, yellow, green and blue that line up in the predetermined grid emulates, as the artist states, "the warp and woof of weaving." The varying acrylic blocks of color that dot these huge canvases simulate movement and energy. This pulsating action is furthered by Shaw's placement of tiny squares of mirror within the rhythm of the grid. The minute reflective mirrors embedded in the vibrant and dense grid activate and energize the canvas in a subtle, hypnotic manner. Indeed, if one stares at these long enough, it is possible that other objects can emerge — much like the effect of "Magic Eye" imagery.

In the 1980s, Shaw continued his formulaic grid paintings but began to turn them into sculpture. Following the path similar to Frank Stella, he combined expressionistic splashes and strokes of paint to three-dimensional elaboration of the painted surface. In "Sun Ship" (1982), the square panels are layered on top of each other in alternating straight and diagonal alignments. Each panel still contains the tiny grid pattern, but is covered with splashes of white, red and black paint. The intermingling of the order of the grid and the spontaneity of the splashes suggest the play of logic and reason with intuition and fate.

Shaw's most recent works of the '90s move at first away from the grid and instead employ broad spans of primary color filled with squiggly, undulating lines made of paint or tape. Both the artist and curator state that these works ooze with sensuality and sexual energy, but I did not find this readily apparent. Rather, they have a coldness about them that is similar to the graphic, hard-edge quality of a Keith Haring painting. It is interesting that the two most recent paintings from 1999 return to the grid format. It is as if the artist realized that his concepts were most effective and evocative in his trademark woven patterns.

At age 75, Shaw's journey in art continues, and yet he seems to have come around full circle. T.S. Eliot said it best: "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first
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