It was sad news to hear that Thom Shaw, a well-known local printmaker and artist, passed away July 6 from complications due to diabetes. Unfortunately, I heard the news too late to write something in time for the memorial service that took place July 17.
Shaw had not been well for a number of years, and issues of medical procedures, inevitable mortality and the frailty of the human body (and spirit) became topics in the last years of his work. Many of these works were exhibited in August-September 2009 in a solo project entitled Life Stories at Pearlman Gallery in the Art Academy of Cincinnati, where Shaw studied art as a young man.
The unapologetic, full disclosure of these images portraying poor health and human struggle are a powerful continuation of Shaw’s best-known works: high-contrast and highly graphic black-and-white relief prints depicting social and personal struggles for those living in urban, low-income situations, especially black individuals and families dealing with the realities of crime, drug abuse, poverty, desperation and ongoing social inequity in America. These works are fierce, harrowing and occasionally amusing in their melodramatic portrayal of some of the worst aspects of contemporary city life. One such print is currently on view (through Aug. 15) in the Cincinnati Art Museum’s Coast to Coast print exhibition.
A longer tribute piece about Thom Shaw’s valuable contributions to art and to Cincinnati’s understanding of itself will run in the print version of CityBeat in August, but for now we wanted to make mention of his passing and take a moment to express that he will be missed.