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Phil Shaw’s ‘Shelf Obsession’ at Skibo Castle

Posted: 5 March 2018

The Carnegie Club at Skibo Castle is delighted to host ‘Shelf Obsession’, an exhibition of internationally renowned digital printmaker Phil Shaw’s work. Phil’s iconic bookshelf prints collate texts to craft visual stories, inviting the observer to read the titles on the shelves and discover a hidden narrative among the tomes. His prints are not only arresting aesthetically but are - by turns – playful, clever, humorous, wry, and subversive. 

Phil was born in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, in 1950. He studied art at Huddersfield School of Art, painting at Leeds Polytechnic and printmaking at the Royal College of Art. In 2000 he was awarded a doctorate in Printmaking from Middlesex University, where he has taught since 1980. In 2017 Phil published Shelf Obsession, a coffee table book featuring his artwork. He wrote that as a child, “I was and still am fascinated by thing which are not what they appear – puzzles, paradoxes and contradictions, the enigma of consciousness and the ultimate comedy of life.”

Phil Shaw’s ‘Fiction 14’ on display in the Skibo Gallery

Phil Shaw’s ‘Fiction 14’ on display in the Skibo Gallery

Phil’s prints have attracted significant attention from art critics and cultural commentators, and can be found in the collections of individuals including Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, illusionist Derren Brown, writer Anthony Horowitz, choreographer Arleen Phillips and actor Liam Neeson. His work can also be found in the possession of politicians and world leaders: Phil was commissioned by David Cameron to create ‘The Group of Eight’, the thought provoking print that was presented to world leaders including Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama at the 2013 G8 Summit in Northern Ireland. 

Phil’s digital bookshelves are not what they appear to be. From across the room, they are easily mistaken for actual bookcases and shelves, and even on closer inspection the prints still have secrets to reveal. Read across the spines of the books and the viewer will discover patterns emerging, hidden quotations or even a whole new narrative being told.

Two of Phil Shaw's Shakespearean prints - ‘Richard III pt 2’ and ‘Macbeth’ - on show in the Skibo Gallery

Two of Phil Shaw's Shakespearean prints - ‘Richard III pt 2’ and ‘Macbeth’ - on show in the Skibo Gallery

Several works in the show were inspired by Shakespeare. Look closely at the ‘Hamlet II’ and you realise that Hamlet’s famous speech, “Death, the undiscovered country…” can be read across the spines of the books. Also on display is ‘All the World’s a Stage’, which was commissioned by the Globe Theatre in London as part of their Shakespeare 400 anniversary celebrations in 2016. The print contains four shelves, and on each shelf are books which - from the first word of each of their titles – spell out Jacques’s famous lines from As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” This sequence is repeated in German Russian and Chinese, reflecting the universality of Shakespeare’s appeal.

Phil Shaw’s ‘All the World’s A Stage’

Phil Shaw’s ‘All the World’s A Stage’

Some of the prints craft a new narrative from the titles. Read across the spines of the books in  ‘Once Upon a Time in the Land of the Book’, for example, and the viewer discovers a brand new fairytale which begins Once Upon a Time where – by way of Patagonia, Las Vegas and numerous other exotic locations - the protagonists find true love, marry and live Happily Ever After, while in ‘Pulp Fiction’ we follow a hardboiled detective hot on the heels of a killer in a nourish tale of murder, Broadway and teddy bears…

Phil’s prints aren’t just aesthetically pleasing – they invite the viewer to work out what is going on, to solve the puzzle that Phil has laid out before them. Members and guests at Skibo will have the opportunity to discover the wit and wisdom of Phil Shaw and his digital prints until the end of September.

Phil Shaw is represented by the Rebecca Hossack gallery.

‘Shelf Obsession’ is on display in the Skibo Gallery until the end of September 2018.

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