Judith Shaw, a St. Louis based artist, is the focus of our Members Spotlight at the St. Louis Artists’ Guild for the month of September. Judith’s artistic practice engages with the heavy-duty machinery and vehicles that are dominating her neighborhood in Clayton, Missouri. Shaw’s condominium in Clayton overlooks the Centene Campus Development Project, underway since early 2016, the project has been an ongoing source of angst and anguish not only for her but also for other residents and businesses in the neighborhood.
Shaw’s unit faces the building site of the 30-story office tower which is looming over her living space. Once demolition and construction got rolling, relentless noise and layer upon layer of dust and debris transformed her home from a sanctuary into a battle zone. From dusk to dawn, Shaw and her neighbors are bombarded with the rumble and vibration of jack-hammers, the pounding of pile drivers and the racket of drills, saws, hammers and grinders. Clamoring trucks caused a constant commotion. Armies of uniformed workers, in high-visibility gear, invaded the area six days a week. Traffic detours and delays were rampant.
Disgusted and distraught, Shaw considered selling her luxury condo and moving - to a different neighborhood, maybe to another city, maybe to the countryside. But after a surprising turnaround, she did none of those. It happened one day when Shaw spotted an array of intricate tire patterns created by the massive machinery moving about the construction site. Awed by the in-ground sketches left by the tires, she stopped to admire the tracks and has been doing so ever since. Shaw saw artistry in the rhythmic designs and textured motifs of the repetitive dips, dents and dimples formed by the trucks as they went through gravel, tar, mud, oil, dirt, ice, snow or water.
Some compositions lingered while others disappeared quickly, mirroring the impermanence and the fragility of our environment. She has made several friends at the construction site, who help with rolling out the tar paper and even clearing debris from the road to achieve better impressions of the tracks. Now on a first-name basis with many of the workers who assist in her art, Shaw greets them daily and they often exchange stories with one another. Many also stop in amazement to look at the tire markings, artwork they admittedly never noticed before. They, too, appreciate the camaraderie and new perspective.
The constant coming and going of trucks on the site, as well as the duration of the construction project, has allowed for Judith to make several pieces quickly. Cement mixers, dump trucks, loaders, excavators, backhoes, dozers, hoists, cranes and assorted utility vehicles are her printing presses. Every piece is completely left up to chance, allowing the construction worker to engage in the practice by placing the paper where they think is best, and then letting the truck just pass over the paper with no direction from the artist.
Once the trucks have run over the tar paper, Judith determines whether the piece needs more tire passes or she decides to roll that piece up and places another clean piece out. After she has gained several impressions, she returns to her studio to view the work. She often tears off the unnecessary paper to reveal the perfect composition and then considers how the piece would be best presented.