Leslie Shows
Two Ways to Organize, 2006

Leslie Shows reinvigorates the practice of landscape painting with large, materially rich pieces that reflect a vast continuum of geological and human change. Through broad gestures and intricate details, she articulates a world in which we are but fleeting specks.

Two Ways to Organize suggests both the big bang paradigm of energy explosion and a look back at today from a distant future. A variety of found images appear within ribbons of acrylic paint, rust, and mud. Little paint splotches and collaged cutouts recall particles organizing themselves into the beginning of the universe, while residue of present-day hobbyists shows up in gridded needlepoint patterns, which stand in for crystalline structures. The surface also bears several small faux-metal scrapbook labels, which ordinarily serve as organizing tools for hypothetical memories. In Shows’s composition they are trapped in amber, made into archaeological relics of contemporary middle America.

Artwork Info

Artwork title
Two Ways to Organize
Artist name
Leslie Shows
Date created
acrylic, charcoal, metal, mud, rust, and collage on panel
82 in. × 82 in. (208.28 cm × 208.28 cm)
Date acquired
Collection SFMOMA
James and Eileen Ludwig Fund purchase
© Leslie Shows
Permanent URL
Artwork status
Not on view at this time.

Audio Stories

Shows explains how the big bang theory inspired this work

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San Francisco artist Leslie Shows reveals a world in which humans are fleeting specks. Shows spent her childhood in Alaska, where people are inescapably dwarfed by the power of geological forces. Looking both forward and back, Two Ways to Organize suggests the energies that have already shaped the landscape and could do so again at any time.  



So Two Ways to Organize, I think the seed for that piece was reading the Manuel DeLanda essay about the big bang, matter kind of exploding out in this real undifferentiated profusion of stuff, and how it sort of started to precipitate out, and it starts to take on a structure.  



Its a process that plays itself out in Shows studio.  



Usually I mass a bunch of materials together in sort of a process of mining—[chuckles] mining my studio over and over, and trying to find things that I knew I had before. Here on the West Coast, we have a much more volatile, active, kind of like upheaval-prone landscape. Im really into feeling like Im having the ground pulled out from under me. And these kinds of ideas about matter having creativity to it and the ground not being necessarily static all the time. I think thats pretty radical. And I think its a good lens to look at landscape through, in terms of landscape painting, and how one could push it into new territory. 

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