Rob Shaw: Multi-gifted

Posted On May 18, 2017

Painter Rob Shaw has a split personality. At the center of the two, like the joint of a wishbone, is art.

by Rachel Haynie

“Especially when I am teaching classes at Havens Framemakers & Gallery (Havens) on Wednesday evenings, I approach art in a methodical, step-by-step manner. My purpose then is consistency; my aim is to help students follow what I am describing, conveying.”

Shaw said after hours and on weekends when he is working in his home studio, his family close by, he goes at his art with more abandon. “In that setting I sometimes like to back myself into an artistic corner, make a mess, then try to get myself out out of it.”

Such a departure from the teacher Rob Shaw enables the adventurous artist Rob Shaw to grow. “It’s along paths such as this that I evolve, discover new styles I want to try and master.”

The result is a diverse body of work that touches on every medium Shaw has been taught or undertaken independently, both during his student years in Studio Art at the University of South Carolina, and since graduating. 

Although he first turns to oils, he also has produced work in acrylics and watercolor. His abstracts are initiatives he described as “a natural progression of my art.” Recently, he has experimented with resins, creating a high-gloss, near-enamel look. 

But it has been the palette knife on which his reputation has grown. Both art collectors and his students are drawn to the rich, textural effects he achieves. 

“In this technique, I use one big palette knife for everything, for the entire painting,” Shaw explained, handling a flat-bladed implement that resembles something between a cake knife and a trowel. 

That experiment was another of his art forays that went very well. “Of course, we all use the palette knife to mix our paints. One day I looked at how the paint colors were combining on my palette and decided to try applying that mix directly to the canvas.” 

He kept developing the process, liked the textures that resulted, and, without benefit of instruction, has fine-tuned the technique. “The opportunity to learn this technique is one of the draws to the five-week classes I teach at Havens. These students enjoy learning something new,” Shaw said.

His commitment as featured artist at Havens, beginning in 2003, has left him little time to travel the state in search of local scenes to paint, subject matter that has created consistently growing demand for his work. 

Fortunately, he has plenty of reference material stashed away, from earlier times when he was able to make treks to the coast, or any of the vistas, landscapes, or other scenic destinations he has painted – or will eventually. 

“Besides what I have on my phone and on my desktop, I have shoeboxes full of hard-copy photographs I’ve taken over the years. Sometimes when I go back through them, I see something I had missed the last time I took a look.” Based on shots taken years earlier, new paintings end up on his canvases. 

Evidence that Shaw is especially drawn to water – from the Atlantic Ocean to marshes, rivers, and creeks – is seen in the subject matter he chooses. His paintings evoke the ways water reflects light, a natural luminosity that has captured the imaginations of painters from humanity’s earliest records of artistic endeavor. 

With brush or palette knife, he has immortalized a low country net caster, numerous water craft, the boneyard at Hunting Island State Park near Beaufort, SC, Congaree Swamp, and vistas taking in the three rivers that converge near Columbia. 

“I don’t consciously plan it, but it seems I paint something and stick primarily with that subject matter for six months to a year before something else inspires me.” The Gervais Street Bridge, and other bridges around the Midlands, has been a prime example.

In 2000, the same year he graduated from USC, he was commissioned to create five murals for Senate Plaza. In 2003 he became Havens’ featured artist. Two years later one of his works was juried into the NBSC Invitational. “That show traveled the state for a year,” Shaw recalled. In 2008, his oil painting, “Green Mist on Gervais,” took the top award at the South Carolina State Fair. 

His submission to the 2014 Artfields was juried into that inaugural art exhibition held in Lake City, SC, where cash prizes totaling $100,000 are awarded in a nine-day exhibition showcasing regional art from all 12 southeastern states. Also in 2014, Shaw was featured in Jasper Magazine.

His lush mural of the 12th hole at Forest Lake Country Club was a commission he completed in 2016. In December 2016 he was the featured artist in a solo show at the gallery at Michael’s Café and Catering.

Besides Senate Plaza, his work is on view around town at Tombo’s Grill on Forest Drive. Rosso’s in Trenholm Plaza has showcased his paintings. “But, first and foremost, Havens has been my primary gallery - for 14 years,” Shaw said.

It’s there he leads a cadre of students on Wednesday evenings. “Some of us have been taking his classes for years,” said Darra Cothran, who began lessons when she was at a milestone in her life and career. A still-practicing attorney, she recalled, “I decided I wanted to use the other side of my brain. Rob is an excellent teacher and has developed a group of us who love art and enjoy each other’s company.”

Tommie Toner searched for years for a teacher that could assist her in creating on canvas what she had in mind. “Not many people can paint well with a knife, much less teach others how to manage pushing paint around on canvas, wood or linen.” Toner, a successful artist in her own right, appreciates that “our group supports each other’s ideas and critiques each other, with honesty and respect.”

Ron Weathers, widely recognized for his award-winning watercolor pieces, comes to classes to learn new techniques – most recently, the palette knife. “But I like the fellowship with the other artists as much as the instruction. Attending Rob’s classes forces me to paint on evenings I might not otherwise. Rob is a great teacher and a super guy.”

Some of Shaw’s work will go on view First Friday in June (the 2nd) at Gallery West on State Street; he will be sharing the show and exhibition space with his students.