Monday 14 February 2011

George Shaw

Sadly he didn't win the Turner Prize. George Shaw is a British painter who records the 60s estate where he grew up, on the outskirts of Coventry. The skies are grey, and more rain threatens. There's nobody about. He uses Humbrol paints, intended for model aircraft. The khaki camouflage shades suit our landscape and weather perfectly. He's the Philip Larkin of British art - or the Graham Greene - or the Alfred Hitchcock.

Here's a recent interview with him in the Guardian. And here's another interview in a piece I wrote in 2002 about Shaw and artists like him. Here's a slide show of his work, courtesy of the Guardian.

In his youth, he found that the kind of art contained in books — "drawings of dead Jesus, sliced lemons and bottles of wine" — had "little connection with growing up in a council house." At Sheffield Polytechnic in the late 1980s he found himself creating "as an art student, not a human being" — any kind of personal work had to be approached ironically. "Passion seemed to be discouraged," he says. "Any sort of little hint of interest in your work was immediately theorized, put through the grinding mill of pseudo-psychoanalytical art criticism."

One of the first things he did when he went to the Royal College in 1996, after a break of seven years, was to copy a list of some 2,000 works shown at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1979, thinking that reconstructing them would keep him busy. "The first title was something like Sunset in the Dordogne," Shaw recalls. But he had never been anywhere like the Dordogne. So he thought: "I'll do sunset over the garages round the back of me dad's house, rather than going and looking for somewhere that looks like art."

Shaw paints places that should hold a jolly crowd, like pubs and community centers, but they are always shut, with just a few lights left burning. In his pictures, it is always 3 p.m. on a winter's day, the time when children walk home from school and the pubs are closed — the hour that Christ died and the sky went dark, as he was taught at Catholic primary school. He says his paintings are "a mixture of fantasy and memory. I remember it being quite lonely and just wandering about a lot." Time magazine, 2002

George Shaw: The Sly and Unseen Day
South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Road, London SE5
ended 3 July

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