George Shaw In Focus

George Shaw


A closer look at Turner Prize 2011 nominee George Shaw


George Shaw is a painter of nostalgia; his subject matter is drawn exclusively from a half–mile radius around Tile Hill, a post-war housing estate on the edge of Coventry in the West Midlands that was Shaw’s home until the age of 18. But contrary to what we might expect given this highly personal connection with his work, Shaw’s paintings seem somewhat unemotional. Not only are they devoid of human life, there are, moreover, no discernable geographical features that might evoke a particular town or region; these images could have been taken from any one of a myriad of similar estates in England. Shaw’s painting, then, is at once extremely personal and extremely detached and anodyne. His aim is not to conjure up a rose-tinted past but to document the effects of the passage of time on his former home, the jarring new additions to this environment since his time there.


Rather than using what he dubs ‘high’ oils, Shaw opts for Humbrol enamel, the paint of model aeroplanes – of boyhood.  This only serves to further emphasise the supremely ordinary and unglamorous nature of his subject matter. As Shaw himself says: ‘they’re not made for saying the great things in life – life and flesh and death and skulls and Jesus.’ But this is not only a conceptual device; it creates an extraordinarily glossy surface-texture that punches the light away, affording the paintings a unique, almost photographic quality. Of the eight paintings on display, four have been created especially for the Turner Prize: The Devil Made Me Do It, a woodland scene, far more pastoral than the rest of the collection; The New Houses, an ironic depiction of a suburban wasteland; The Same Old Crap, showing the charred remains of a burnt-down pub; and Shut Up, a shop window with its shutters down, closed for business. Shaw has remarked in interview that he was not concerned when his college contemporaries branded him ‘sentimental’; in fact he embraces this description. But the sentimentality found in Shaw’s work is a highly unusual one; his paintings are a far cry from what we might expect of depictions of a boyhood home.


George Shaw was born in Coventry in 1966. He completed his BA at Sheffield Polytechnic in 1992 before moving on to the Royal College of Art for his MA, making him the only nominated artist this year to have studied in London. Words: Maddie Bates © 2011 ArtLyst

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