Paintings, lithographs, color etchings, collagraphs, collages, works on paper
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Gary Lee Shaffer (1936-2001) was a prolific, innovative artist who avoided social and political movements and worked independently in a non-objective, expressionist manner. Born in Lansing, Michigan, he set out to New York in 1957, joining many other artists who converged on the new emerging urban art scene to pursue broader, more adventurous creative lives. He was searching for identity, a medium and aesthetic means to convey subjective states through abstract expressionist painting.
After 2 full summer residency scholarships at the Hans Hoffman School of Painting, Provincetown, MA, he joined the Printmakers' Workshop, established by master printer Robert Blackburn, professor at NYU and Columbia University, to revive fine printmaking after WWII. In a 1979 letter, he recounts that he paid $15 per month for full-time use of the lithography and etching presses and studio. He gained recognition through printmaking competitions and international traveling exhibits, winning awards and purchase prizes starting in 1960 with his expressionist stone lithograph "Homage to O."
Shaffer moved to San Francisco in 1986 and became an artist in residence at Kala. He continued self-publishing his original prints in very small editions of only 2 to 18 impressions and varied editions. He expanded his techniques into color etching, monotypes, print collages and unique hand-made books. Over his lifetime, he produced thousands of pieces.
Shaffer was an active board member of two respected printmaking organizations, California Society of Printmakers and Society of American Graphic Artists. For decades, he wrote articles for their publications and assisted with local, national and international exchange exhibitions.
Expressionism is the thread woven through his work. His energetic linear imagery reveal a conflicted private personal world, translating gesture through printmaking, a difficult tool for direct expression. He was able to achieve his goal of breaking the boundaries of the traditional picture plane, exploring and deconstructing the iconic landscape in order to create new ones.
His aesthetic concerns with the plastic quality of paint were based on the “push-pull” painting concepts of Hans Hoffman(1880-1966). Shaffer’s oils are stylistically associated with modern trends in scale, color and method. His compositions depict a disquieted chaotic landscape and often applied his signature Tetralogy format of dividing the picture plane into four or more parts. He described his “Tetralogies” as the dramatic and comedic acts of a Greek play with each section telling a story of its own as a unique painting.
His early paintings were punctuated by liquid drip methods invented by Hoffman and made famous by Jackson Pollack. Shaffer’s paint application methods were similar to the late Belgian painter Nicholas de Stael, painting with pure, highly saturated oil colors applied with large brushes, trowels, palette knives. His forms and colors are bold, imagery laden with symbols and organic, biomorphic shapes. A reclining stylized figure appears in his earlier work along with tactile stone forms, targets, spheres, the sun and circles. In 1973, the house motif makes its appearance in surrealist landscapes inspired by the vast open American plains of the Midwest and travels to Holland and Greece.
A PERSONAL CRITERION OF A CONTEMPORARY ARTIST. Gary Shaffer, 1964
“ The paintings I do are conceived abstractly, and therefore abstract in appearance. I am currently exploring the image of the landscape. The question is not whether the painting looks like the landscape in the sense that a camera imitates the horizon; rather, it is whether the painting succeeds as a unified image of itself. The means are direct; often I will build an impasto of paint on sections of the canvas to indicate relationships of possible objects within the framework of the landscape. Apart from these centrifugal considerations, I aim for an openness; something like the vastness of a Mid-western countryside, or that which is cognizant of an early morning walk upon a deserted stretch of sand. I call these paintings landscapes, yet in the end, I would prefer that they contain visual, rather than literal or sociological, meaning. “
This web site is dedicated to the art of Gary Lee Shaffer.
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