In many ways, Tim A Shaw is the Fine Artist you’d expect: dedicated, inspired and always working. Before we reach the halfway point in our interview, however, talk of Instagram developing a “Jaegermeister goggles” filter releases contagious laughter with a glint of mischief. His shoes are straight-laced, coming undone at one side; just as his work is “seemingly fragile, yet robust”, his personal life balances between states of regimented chaos, “I don’t like being comfortable and I don’t like sleeping very much. I get up early and I go to bed late”, and fun instilled in him from childhood.
Our conversation starts with a short description of his work, “If I were to do it in a few words, it would be: Bodily, Surgical, Amalgamations.” We’re keen to avoid the jargon that comes with prepping for an interview. “I’m creating Frankenstein’s monster. Creating new identities.” Macabre attitudes from the Victorian era are modernised in Shaw’s fish lights, “they’re quite grotesque… you can use fish as though they were human, but then you’re detached enough from it that it can be seen as a fleshy mass”. A comical image, but one with reflections of the dark humour favoured by Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley: the tone is set.
His influences, tripping over himself while speaking (as lists of artists come to mind), are stabilised by mentions of his father and sister. A list filled with gratitude that reads like an Oscar acceptance speech; he explains, “even though I don’t know my dad now, [but] he’s a surgeon and in his training he used to do sex change operations, and things like that”. Brought up with surgery as a visual and way of life, involved garden activities akin to digging up buried animals. Disparate to Burke and Hare, body snatchers in the 19th Century, Tim Shaw – an admirer of Da Vinci – was a keen observer from an early age. “If I wasn’t an artist, I would like to have thought I’d have gone into surgery”, and he goes on to humour his own fascinations, “you can change someone so much quicker surgically, than you can mentally, culturally, or socially”.
Although man-made, his habitat was possibly one of the factors in determining his artistic destiny rather than that of a fully fledged medic: “My studio is not like a lab – it’s an often messy studio”: the first law of CSM Art students, and to that, we hear Einstein retort: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”.
“I’ve got no ballast, I don’t like being comfortable and I don’t like sleeping very much. I get up early and I go to bed late. “
Observations lead to action; Tim is clearly very prolific in his creation. Within his arsenal of techniques, I ask Tim if taxidermy is of great importance to his work, but he’s not interested. It’s a mere tool, one of many in his box; not the sharpest. “If you use taxidermy correctly, it will last for a few hundred years. A proper sculptural object,” elaborating “I’m not like Polly Morgan, I don’t have an actual interest.” His delight lies more in the ceremony, “using a scalpel and removing flesh, formaldehyde”: the scientist in him appears.
“I’m not interested in taxidermy, but I do use it as a tool… It’s a surgical process that I do quite like.”
Whatever the ritual when creating work – “music can be distracting” – it’s not a peaceful experience. “I find it quite stressful… a lot of people think that when there’s repetition in the process of making work, it can be quite relaxing and stress free.” Tim talks of the constant battle to refresh ideas while balancing simplicity, “there is a lot of self doubt as well.” This repetition is often found in the most iconic of works; where Pop Art ruled the worlds of art, fashion, music and advertising, the repetition of the Dadaist movement was hardly hidden within its name.
Just as Duchamp succumbed to multidisciplinary attitudes, Tim Shaw isn’t afraid to say no, and he immerses himself between the spheres of art and music. “I’m in a show; we’re doing work in response to Schönberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire”, a very complicated piece of music; it’s going to be a big mixed media installation,” he says.
Information for the event is left below, as Tim confesses he’s “not good at self promotion, “I don’t use [technology] as much as I could do.” Happy to help, we’re sure it’s something soon to change, once the Digital Revolution takes place (a long time coming). “At the moment, it’s not something that I’d necessarily use in my work. I think it will be used a lot more, [in the future] you’ll be able to buy editions online and then print it yourself… there need to be perimeters before it takes off.” Martin Creed‘s name is thrown into the mix as we discuss ownership. People want a hard copy, a reminder of what they’ve purchased. Like children with a new toy, we don’t want to share our curations.
“I have a bit of a collection. I buy art for the reason that I think you have a different relationship with a piece of work when you own it, to when you see it in a gallery. It’s not necessarily a better relationship, it’s just an interesting relationship”
Curations go from personal to those less private; Tim has also worked with SHOWStudio, and he’s got endless praise for the company’s directors and carers, Carrie and Niamh. “There’s something really warm about the spaces they’ve had, they’re somewhere in-between domestic – studio – gallery. They’re good curators,” he says, “they manage to make something that could be a mess, look really effective; there is always an interesting narrative.”
“I’m glad I didn’t go to a more rural university. I’m not a big country person anyway. If I was going to live anywhere it would be in the city, whether it was London or not.”
As we meet the halfway line, I pop through the blister pack packaging, we’ve discussed Tim’s work plainly, deeply and ardently; now the truth behind Tim’s palette clutching exterior escapes himself. Dispersing like a clumsily opened yoghurt.
His rule of three: drinking, dancing badly and climbing things. An exercise regime for the candidly (un)tortured artist.
Talk of cycling between his live/work space in Dalston and studio in West London should evoke conversations of eco-emissions or dodging the congestion charge, “It ruins your lungs! I’m almost an anti-cyclist. I’m not one of the MAMILs, no. But give it time.” Tim goes on to explain his alternative exercise regime: monkey climbing across the girders that ballast his work space, a place not very different in atmosphere from his childhood bedroom, “I have a full skeleton. When I was a child, it was my most treasured possession. I guess that stuff never seemed odd.”
“When you’re first starting college, it does seem like the world is coming down around you. But the good thing about spending four years in art school is that you get a thick skin, and learn that that’s one of the most important parts of the process. “
Dismissing the Steve Jobs polo neck, embracing the scalpel once clasped by Frankenstein and shunning taxidermy in the eyes of Polly Morgan, Tim Shaw is of his own creation. A man with many influences, and work like no other.
Tim is involved in a group show from September 6th – “Intangible Beauty: Beautiful Women and the Endless Void” – Kasher Potamkin, New York, USA
And from October 18th in “The Pierrot Project – Generation & Display” 18 Trading Estate Road, NW10. Group show curated by Niamh White.
Words by Eleanor Kirby