Friday, 6 February 2009

George Shaw

Scene from the Passion #53, 2002
Humbrol enamel on board, 77 x 101cm

Tate Britain, London
March 2003

Seeing George Shaw’s work for the first time was one of the highlights of the ‘Days Like These’ triennial showcase of the work of contemporary British artists. The paintings struck me as being perfectly modern images, combining the horror of the non-places of my own childhood with a superficial beauty that photography cannot capture. The painting I have chosen shows a row of three derelict garages presumably in Tile Hill, Coventry the scene of his childhood. Like all his paintings it is taken from his own snapshot photographs that have been edited to remove references to specific time and date. I find this detail an interesting choice given the painstaking photo-realism of the work implies verity. In fact we have a tampering with reality and consequently the emotional impact of the image

The painting is composed centrally across the horizontal board and is conventionally divided into thirds. The colour scheme is very gloomy. He uses just seven colours of paint for all his work - this example is predominantly grey and green Humbrol enamel. This unusual selection of paint doesn't reflect a childhood obsession with painting Airfix models - just a happy accident![1]

Whilst I used to make the models I could never be bothered painting them, primarily because of the difficulty of working with this paint! So how he achieves such flawless photo-realism without any evidence of brushwork is incredible. The beauty of the painted surface is at total variance with the subject matter and I think it is this disconnect that adds to the melancholic strength of the images. The shadowy gloom of some of his work evokes the dark glazes of Rembrandt which is all the more remarkable given the materials he uses.

[1] Stout, Katherine Days Like These Tate Publishing 2003 p138

©blackdog 2009


  1. (Sorry, the first reaction was only a test-reaction; 'nice' is a silly word without any content!)
    The painting struck me too, I admire the veristic technique of painting, but most touching are subject/motif and atmosphere. One deja-vu place of our throw-away-society, now abandoned, desolate, tristesse pure - but we see that persons have been here and they have left their traces- graffiti/messages (I read the word 'PHIL', I know I'm not meant, nevertheless the name reminds me of my own name and creates a kind of familiarity) and some things they have used, perhaps having been important for somebody- all this, especially the relicts of human life, evokes a feel of melancholy no doubt- on the other side despite the tristesse of the painted reality there is a touch of softness and warmth in the picture, maybe because of the soft greens in the background, the trees, the warmer brown toning, I cannot explain that- and I could imagine that a photo (without any processing) would have looked harder-stranger- more repulsive and more inexorable than this somehow touching painting -with a (pre-)sentiment of humanity.