Further North this morning I find myself at Gateshead’s Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art at ‘The Sly and Unseen Day’, a retrospective of the work of the ‘Monet of the Midlands’ (according to last week’s Observer Review), George Shaw. I don’t want to write too much about Shaw’s paintings, as it has all been written about so well by others elsewhere and they speak so eloquently for themselves like all the best art. It was however, a slightly surreal experience to be confronted with an enormous banner on the front of the Centre depicting one of Shaw’s paintings of the Tile Hill housing estate where he grew up in Coventry. Who would have thought that such an image I can so closely identify with would be seen in such a context?
I say this as an echo of something Shaw himself touches upon in a conversation with novelist Gordon Burn in the exhibition catalogue. In it he says, ‘I troll around contemporary art spaces and look at contemporary art and I’m bored, I just find it the dullest experience, and I’m just trudging around, kind of going ‘Oh interesting, interesting’, and I don’t feel anything.
Shaw: ’Very rarely. But when it does hit you it’s like ‘Fucking hell, I’ll have that, let’s find out more about that.’ Sometimes movies do that, bits of TV. It’s very rare. Maybe I’m just a horrible person, uneducated to understand the sensitivities that are being dealt to me, but I think time is too short to be spent on things that actually don’t tell you anything about your own life, your own relationship with things. I don’t even know where the contemporary galleries are!’
Yeah, I felt like I was him when I read that. It’s one of the reasons I and so many others like Shaw’s paintings so much…
I find them so affecting (he is also such a brilliant painter of trees).The humbrol enamel paint he uses I think really helps with this. In the Observer piece mentioned he explains why he uses this:
The Humbrol sheen lifts the paintings out of the realm of the purely representational, the ultra-realist, and takes it somewhere else, somewhere both old-fashioned and timeless, conservative yet contemporary. "It's that glow that you only see when you're walking home from the pub alone," he says. "That solitary glow, the glow of a telly though a window or streetlights reflected on rain on the streets."