Which works of art at the BMA draw you in? For Ernest Shaw, an image-maker and educator born and raised in West Baltimore, it’s Gary Simmons’ charcoal drawing, Triple Burn, on view through January 5, 2020, in Every Day: Selections from the Collection. The symbolism and technique in Simmons’ work aligns with Shaw’s colorful approach to capturing history and culture.


I create images. The image does not become art until the viewer has had an opportunity to experience it and then is some way transformed.

My name is Ernest Shaw. I am an image-maker and educator. What stood out in the piece, Triple Burn by Gary Simmons, is his choice compositionally. He drew three churches burning, but he chose to break up the composition with white crosses. He did it using frames. And those crosses could represent crossroads, intersections.

I’m very appreciative of the symbolism associated with the cross, relative to black spirituality. Relative to the ways in which black people in this society meet at the crossroads every day, needing to make decisions to their survival. The way he used his hand to handle the medium, and using his hand to create the smudges and the fire effect in the burning of the churches.

A lot of my work is very colorful. It’s as colorful as some folks season their food. It’s as colorful and/or dramatic and alluring as the way some black people walk and dance and love. There are some similarities between my work and Gary Simmons’ work, though they may not be aesthetic. We both tackle issues that involve race, culture, popular culture. We use some of the same materials. Even though my work is more figurative, we do tend to tackle some of the same issues, and we love using historical context to further our meaning.

I am very encouraged by seeing this piece. It’s inspired me to continue to create more pieces that are relevant, culturally relevant, culturally responsive to the lives of my students. I teach predominantly black and brown students in inner city Baltimore, and the ways in which I’ve been most successful in reaching those students is by exposing them to work that resonates with them.

Ernest Shaw’s work is currently on view in the exhibition TESTIFY! A Life’s Time of Emerging Blackness at The Motor House Gallery and the group exhibition We Are One: Ernest Shaw, Jerry Prettyman, Monica Ikegwu, Latoya Hobbs, Mark Fleuridor at the Creative Alliance, December 14-January 18.