Charles Green Shaw American, 1892-1974


Charles Green Shaw hailed from Woolworth stock but was raised by his uncle after he was orphaned at a young age. A gifted writer and draftsman, he studied architecture at Yale University, where he joined a circle of high society with classmates such as Cole Porter. Shaw began writing humor for The Yale Record. He brought his society parodies to The New Yorker and won the respect of F. Scott Fitzgerald for his novel, Heart in a Hurricane. Graduate work at Columbia University was interrupted by classes at the Art Students League under Thomas Hart Benton. All of the Park Avenue Cubists had realist instructors, but Benton was the most committed to abstraction. Having begun his career with experiments in Synchromism, Benton continued to teach abstraction as a tool of visual investigation, and Shaw absorbed the same lessons as Benton’s most famous student, Jackson Pollock. Shaw closed the twenties with a tour of Europe which lasted until 1932. Upon returning to New York City, he committed himself to abstract art, describing his work in terms of the “plastic polygon” in 1933. His first solo exhibition the following year at Curt Valentin Gallery preceded meeting his ultimate champion in Albert E. Gallatin in 1935. Gallatin gave Shaw a monographic exhibition, writing, in the New York Evening Post, that “Mr. Shaw is doing the most important work in abstract painting in America today.” Gallatin’s trusted lieutenant, George L. K. Morris, curated the show at the Gallery of Living Art, the first solo show at Gallatin’s museum. Morris’s new, Gallatin-funded magazine Plastique ran articles by Shaw, formalizing the theory behind his shaped canvases and proto-pop explorations of the coming decades.