Timing is everything, and you can’t predict the future.
So five years ago to the week when Rosie Addenbrooke, The Herbert’s Senior Events and Exhibitions Officer asked George Shaw about staging an exhibition in his home city she couldn’t have known the opening of the exhibition would coincide with his nomination for the Turner Prize.
So just 18 days before he finds out whether he has won or not, the exhibition finally opened tonight, with hundreds of people there to quaff champagne and celebrate.
George’s paintings focus on the Tile Hill estate where he grew up, and have been shown in London, hugely-successfully at the Baltic in Gateshead, and elsewhere – but never in such number in Coventry,
In an entertaining speech at the opening he revealed his works had been shown at The Herbert before – one in 1981 and two a few years later – and he still has the catalogues of those exhibitions to prove it.
He took to the stage after admitting to having four pints of cider in a nearby pub, in what could be seen as his own Tracey Emin moment, admitting “I have got nothing important to say … I had pages of notes and I can’t be bothered to say any of it.”
But although he now lives in Ilfracombe, he says he’s back regularly to visit his family and admitted: “I am never away … it’s like stuff on my shoe, I can never get rid of it. It’s not exactly a homecoming because I am always coming here.
“I left Coventry to go to art school and one of the reasons I could go to art school is because I had a grant, and is that political? I think it’s quite political.”
George talked about The Herbert being as important to his past as listening to the Specials, the Jam, and watching “the telly”, and about how important it was that visiting galleries like The Herbert stays free to visitors.
He concluded: “I kind of like Coventry…. I kind of like that humility and I like that pride in being humble.”
At that, the exhibition was opened, and everyone was welcomed into George’s world of growing up in Tile Hill. There’s the paintings of Tile Hill done in Humbrol enamel paints, watercolours commissioned this summer which feature some of the same places and how they’ve changed, and a room of works from his teenage years. Take time to read the accompanying exhibition leaflet which includes George’s comments and reminiscences to go with each painting.
In his speech George also paid tribute to Rosie Addenbrooke as “she twisted my arm and made me do it”, and for making him confront what he admits are a lot of anxieties about coming back.
It’s hard to imagine the diminutive Rosie twisting his arm, but Coventry has a lot to thank her for in getting this stunning exhibition here.