George Shaw

Great Masters and naughty goings on in the woods combine to great effect in George Shaw exhibition

The Foot of a Tree

The Foot of a Tree, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

Two and a half years spent amidst some of the best art works in the country has resulted in a stunning new exhibition for Coventry-born artist George Shaw.

George has been the National Gallery’s Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist – and the exhibition he has produced as a result shows the influence of time spent among the Old Masters, but also growing up in Coventry.

George’s paintings, which saw him nominated for the Turner Prize in 2011, focused on the urban landscapes of Tile Hill in Coventry, where he grew up, plus some of its back paths, semi-derelict garages and surrounding woods. Further works showed the remains of buildings such as pubs which have now been lost.

Here, there’s not a building in sight, but still plenty of evidence of human intervention in nature. The exhibition is called My Back to Nature, which can be read several ways, and is certainly a title George has thought about and played around with.

George

George Shaw in his studio, Photo © The National Gallery, London

At the press preview, the typically plain-speaking George talked about his first feelings at being asked to take on the residency. He said: “The initial reaction was complete mystification – how did I make the list. The second drove me to the toilet and I don’t think I have been off the toilet since.

“I spent about six months wishing I had never been asked. But I could hear a 14-year-old boy [himself] saying do it, that’s why you have been doing this for more than 30 years, or it’s been a waste. And I could hear my dad whirring round wherever he may be saying do it.

“It’s a very humbling experience, it’s like having your trousers pulled down in the shop window and you have to stay there. The bullshit of contemporary art slips away but you can’t hide behind vague theory, you have to be in the firing line.”

He shook his head, slightly in amazement still: “Setting up this exhibition, I had Velasquez staring at me – while I was pinning my drawing on the wall Velasquez was on the other side of the gallery.”

George had been a regular National Gallery visitor since he was a child. He said: “My first visit would have been when I was eight or nine years old and came down with mum and dad on the coach, walking through St James Park from Victoria, and my first stop was the National Gallery.

“My parents met in London and knew London quite well and they were aware that if you wanted to see art the National Gallery would be the place to come. We would have come here first then we would go to the newly-opened London Dungeon. I saw no distinction between the two.”

In one cabinet in the exhibition there is a drawing after a work by Piero Della Francesca, from 1984 – and when you remember George was born in 1966, then there’s the proof he’s been a long-time visitor.

He added that, like the 1970s cartoon character Mr Benn who always returned from a journey with a souvenir in his pocket, whenever he ventured away on an adventure to an art gallery, he would come home with a reminder in the shape of a drawing of a painting: “It was more I made a record of my time spent in front of the pictures. I am very aware of the anxiety of time passing, and I am aware my paintings and drawings are very about the sadness of time passing and sadness has a strong relationship with beauty. That’s where art lies, in the gap between sadness and beauty.”

In the Heart of the Wood

The Heart of the Wood, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

George says in a film showing with the exhibition that he came into work every day like the other Gallery staff, but in his case to a studio to paint. Colin Wiggins, Special Projects Curator at the National Gallery, said in the film: “He’s got this pose that he’s just a working man, doing a working man’s job.”

But this job involved studying masterpieces, and he found unlikely connections with his previous inspirations in Tile Hill. One example he cited is The Triumph of Pan by Nicolas Poussin. As strange creatures and beasts frolic semi-naked, food and drink vessels lay abandoned on the ground; not dissimilar to scenes found on weekend mornings in Tile Hill woods, he thought.

He said: “I realised that there wasn’t a room in the gallery that didn’t have a woodland in it and there wasn’t one without a lady parading round in it, and very few that didn’t have a Jesus in it.

“It seemed to be the opposite of nature, to go into the woods take your clothes off and run around being half man and half animal and have sex with anything that will come along. I thought that quite exciting. I quite enjoyed the chance of that – I missed out on it when I was young because I was painting. I was never invited to that party.

“My return to nature was where I bring everything with me.”

The Tossed

The Tossed, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

He felt everything seemed to be happening on the outskirts of towns, in the woods, away from the culture. Along with scepticism about going back to nature to find yourself, he decided he had his back to nature – hence the exhibition’s title.

But how does he fit into the great tradition of British landscape painting, he was asked by National Gallery director Gabriele Finaldi.

“I was told I don’t. I don’t find landscape painting the most exciting part of painting, I find painting Jesus Christ being tortured on the cross, or sexual activity or nudes more exciting. The big question is why don’t I do that – because I can’t.”

He said the teenage boy who didn’t get invited to the exciting parties dreamt instead of being Van Gogh or Rembrandt, and he’s still striving for that, saying about this exhibition: “My reference point was six Rembrandt self-portraits, the way he painted them was the way I wanted to paint a tree.”

The more he looked at the National Gallery works, and the woods around Tile Hill, the more he started to use elements in the landscape figuratively and physically. Three trees together started to be the three crosses at the Crucifixion, at Calvary.

The young George had always loved Titian’s Death of Actaeon at the gallery, and by the time he became Associate Artist the gallery also had Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto.

George said: “Death of Actaeon is one of the greatest paintings in the galleries and it’s one I go back and look at and it’s always impressed me on many different levels.

“I knew I wanted to deal with that subject in a way. I am drawn to the subject of the story.”

In the story, the hunter goes into the woods, finds a curtain which he pulls aside to reveal women bathing. One is Diana who turns him into a stag, and his own hounds devour him – and in the Titian painting she is seen raising a bow and arrow for good measure.

George added: “Maybe coming from Coventry the subject matter attracted me, the tradition of Lady Godiva protesting about taxes in the city and Peeping Tom has his eyes burnt out for being drawn to her.

“I went into the woods as a young man and my dad was pointing out all the finer points of flora and fauna and I was more drawn to the copies of Penthouse magazine blowing around. I thought I would come back later and get it.”

Every Brushstroke is Ripped From My Body

Every Brush Stroke is Torn Out of My Body, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

When George ordered three canvases, 178×198 cm, Gabriele said it only meant one thing – they were the same size at the Titian works, and he was going to create his own version. A chance find to take the place of the curtain helped.

“I found a builder’s tarpaulin in the wood. When I saw it I thought are you joking me, I feel I am being set up here.”

George still paints in the Humbrol enamel paints he started using about 20 years ago, and said they become unusable very quickly “It’s very difficult. I enjoy it – I don’t know if that’s really my Catholic upbringing, if you enjoy something it must be bad.”

The paintings are created from photographs, drawings of the same scene and then he varies what is there to suit what he wants, and said by working in the National Gallery he’s been glad to get away from the feeling of his photos bullying him.

He has also tried painting on canvas for the first time. “The gesture and mark making became a little more free form, shaking off my British anal retentiveness.”

In the film also on show at the exhibition he’s seen laughingly fretting about paint running on one of the big works, then he notices more: “It’s like Zulu, they are all coming!”

Most of the painting went on at the National Gallery studio, though there was quite a lot of travel between the “Bermuda Triangle” of London, his home in Devon and Coventry, and some of the smaller paintings travelled with him to be further worked on.

He revealed: “I don’t like my work. I wouldn’t have it because I always see it may be better. When I had about six months remaining here I wanted to be around for another year because I had not made a great painting yet.”

The exhibition is on in the Sunley Room at the National Gallery until October 30 for you to judge for yourself.

The Old Country

The Old Country, 2015-2016, Enamel on canvas, © Courtesy : The Artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London

 

 

 

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George Shaw and Graham Chorlton make New Art Gallery THE place to be

LEYTONSTONE 1995199 2012
Above, Leytonstone 1995, 1999, 2012, by Laura Oldfield Ford

There is a Place…. where you can find works by six artists in a thematic show which brings together some great scenes of urban emptiness.
The New Art Gallery at Walsall is showing There is a Place…until April 14, and it’s a place well worth visiting.
Coventry-born George Shaw contributes both Humbrol-painted paintings, and more unusually, etchings, of Tile Hill. There’s a huge pile of rubble behind a fence, showing the end of a pub where his mother apparently once worked, and another empty space, and in The End of Time, a path leading to where a pub building once stood.
The 12 short walks are etchings of scenes from around the area, showing scenes that are becoming familiar if you’ve seen more of his paintings and watercolours – garages, bleak paths, but green tree-filled areas too, and poignantly fence posts with no fence in between. They’re small, detailed and show his versatility.

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George Shaw’s even gettting written about in CAMRA’s Pint Sides

In the last year, George Shaw must have been written about in many places. But now he’s really made it – one of his works has been discussed in Pint Sides, the newsletter of the Coventry and North Warwickshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
It’s not your normal art criticism though. In Old Fred’s Corner, the writer says he spotted in a national paper in an article about the Turner Prize, a picture of a “derelict site that looked strangely familiar”. Of course this turned out to be a painting by George Shaw of a pub where he used to go.
Or, as ‘Fred’, told us, it was the Hawthorn Tree on Broad Lane, Lost Pubs No 36 in the Spring 2011 edition of Pint Sides.
Fred then goes on to reminisce about the history of the Hawthorn, the surrounding area and how it came to be lost, concluding “I must look out for more of Mr Shaw’s paintings of modern urban desolation”.
Luckily, the editor at this point tells us we can see the exhibition of George’s work at the Herbert until March 11, and I hope Fred has availed himself of this opportunity.

2011 was the year of George Shaw and galleries coming and going

A year ago Private View began, and before we launch ourselves into 2012 I want to look back at a year of the Coventry and Warwickshire art world, of Georges, and of galleries coming and going.
One of the early pieces I wrote on Private View focused on the find in an auction house catalogue by Coventry’s now former Conservation Officer George Demidowicz of a fantastic set of early 19th century watercolours of the city by William H Brooke, and The Herbert launched a £12,000 public appeal to buy them (George is pictured below right with Martin Roberts of The Herbert). Luckily it was a success. Sadly George is no longer with the council so one wonders if a similar set of works would be missed in future.

Martin Roberts and George Demidowicz at The Herbert

At the end of 2011, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about another George, George Shaw, who also paints Coventry, but in Humbrol paints and watercolours. His works focusing on Tile Hill featured in a major exhibition at the Baltic early in the year, and gained him a nomination for the Turner Prize. Staff at The Herbert must have been jumping for joy when they learned about this, as five years of work to stage an exhibition of his work at the gallery coincided with the prize announcement, which unfortunately he wasn’t successful in.
I make no apologies for writing so much about him when his work stands out so much, has gained national acclaim – and the opportunity to write about a local, internationally-recognised artist does not occur all that often!
The opening of an exhibition of lesser-known works by Graham Sutherland at Modern Art Oxford a few days after the Turner announcement, curated by George, was also a lucky coincidence and led to another enjoyable interview. He may be in need of a rest but I’m sure there will be much more that is entertaining, whether through paintings, writing or curating, to come from George in the future – and I’ll never forget some of the tales I heard over lunch at Oxford!
To look at galleries around the area, The Herbert staged Secret Egypt at the start of the year, which tried to cover a lot but only really managed to scratch the surface, and the summer was given over to a dinosaur exhibition aimed at the family market. Its smaller exhibitions caught my eye more – Stitch in Time, looking at the stories behind patchwork creations, the Coventry Consortium, and Lisa Gunn and Flora Parrott’s joint exhibition earlier in the year.
The Art Fund has held a number of interesting and varied fund-raising lectures in the area, which should be looked up by anyone interested in hearing about art and helping secure works for galleries.
At Rugby Art Gallery, Faye Claridge started 2011 with an exhibition inspired by Morris Dancing, and got local girls involved, which was great. The gallery’s 43 uses of drawing exhibition was also memorable.
The White Room gallery in Leamington continued to succeed with its eye for commercial exhibitions, mainly of prints, led by the enthusiasm of John and Heather Gilkes and their family. Their current exhibition of works by Specials’ bassist Horace Panter must surely be one of their most successful.
Compton Verney offered a mixed bag, starting with the wonderful Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson exhibition, continuing with Stanley Spencer landscapes, and ending with the damp squib of an exhibition about fireworks. Next year is looking promising though.
Often-overlooked Nuneaton Art Gallery and Museum put on several small but interesting exhibitions, including subjects as varied as black footballers, little fairly sculptures, lots of painters, and a tribute to local sculptor John Letts.
Leamington Art Gallery also put on several excellent exhibitions in its small temporary exhibition space, including Sir John Tenniel’s Alice in Wonderland illustrations, an exhibition about the life and legacy of Robert Dudley, and the current James Edward Duggins watercolour and pastel exhibition. Its permanent collection is worth visiting for alone.
Hannah Starkey at the Mead exhibited her staged photographs of women in thoughtful situations and I was sorry flu kept me away from meeting her at the opening night. The photos tell stories and are more beautiful the more you return to them. Later in the year the Mead showed fascinating sculptures by Hupert Dalwood, and also photos by Tom Hunter, whose works were staged photos in Hackney, inspired by old masters, and also having a definite something about them.
Hunter’s work is also currently on show at the RSC in Stratford, a different set of photos showing some of Hackney’s more striking people in scenes from Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ll be writing about it in the paper soon, but it’s a captivating exhibition.
Unfortunately 2011 seems to have seen the end of some of the smaller galleries in the area. I only discovered Our White Room in Rugby had gone recently when I went to visit and found other businesses in its space. The Fishbone Gallery in Longford, Coventry, which opened with some entertaining exhibitions and even more fun opening nights, has gone all quiet, and after moving to more attractive premises in the Canal Basin the Lock Gallery hasn’t had so many exhibitions this year, though Emma O’Brien has secured more regular art fairs at the Canal Basin. The Forge at Stretton-under-Fosse succumbed to its rural location.
On a more positive note, the opening of two attractive new gallery spaces in the RSC in Stratford is a good move, and Gallery 150 continues to go from strength to strength with its excellent central location in Leamington. Its opening nights are always entertaining and it’s good to have a chat to the artists, who often have interesting stories to tell, but I do sometimes wish there was more quality control over what is staged there.
The Meter Room opened in unprepossessing premises in Coventry city centre, quickly filling its artists’ studios, and having several interesting early exhibitions. Let’s hope it can keep up its momentum. Dunchurch Art Gallery and Painting Studio is up against it, being based on a busy road in a small village, but has held a few exhibitions which have given good local artists a chance to show in the area, and I hope Mick McCormick continues with his venture.
Towards the end of the year, Matthew Macaulay exhibited in his studio space in Broadgate House in the city centre showing enterprise. Coventry Transport museum has also started showing more temporary exhibitions which is encouraging. The Association of Midland Artists held several exhibitions in Leamington of works by their many members, which were interesting to see.
BRINK, a new ‘not for profit’ arts organisation was also set up in Kenilworth and has also made some interesting first moves, though if they stage outdoor art at the Kenilworth Lions Show again in the summer I hope it’s a less windy day than this year!
And the new Lanchester Gallery Projects exhibition space in the new Coventry University building, the Hub, offers exciting opportunities. Apparently the prominent space became available out of the blue to the gallery, which has no collection of its own, so it will be interesting to see what is made of it.
All in all – it’s been lots of fun this year – and looking forward to lots more in 2012!
(You can follow me on Twitter at JulieinCov).

Graham Sutherland exhibition curated by George Shaw opens in Oxford

graham sutherland_dark hill (2)
Graham Sutherland, Dark Hill – Landscape with Hedges and Fields, 1940 (watercolour, gouache on paper), 48.9 cm x 69.8 cm. Swindon Museum and Art Gallery © Estate of Graham Sutherland
In Coventry Graham Sutherland is forever known for the huge tapestry he designed, Christ in Glory in the Tetramorph, for the new Coventry Cathedral.
George Shaw is currently best known in Coventry for being born in the city, for immortalising Tile Hill in his paintings and being a Turner Prize nominee.
Now their names are linked in An Unfinished World, an exhibition of Graham Sutherland works on paper on show at Modern Art Oxford, which George has curated.
The exhibition’s private view was just five nights after the Turner Prize announcement, won by Martin Boyce. On December 5, after the ceremony in Gateshead, George took his mum back to her hotel, had a cup of tea with her and then went to the pub. He was soon back in Oxford for the opening of the Sutherland exhibition. The story of the exhibition began some time ago.

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Turner miss is disappointing but George Shaw has already moved on

So George Shaw didn’t win the Turner Prize. The disappointment in the packed big hall at the Herbert art gallery was palpable, as many people left within a few minutes, spurning the after party.
But although it’s disappointing and he’ll miss out on some of the instant attention (and prize money) the win brings, it’s hardly like to harm his career or artistic reputation. George Shaw is already well respected in the art world, by the critics, by collectors and by a growing number of art fans and that will not change.
Google Turner Prize and flick through a list of the past winners and other nominated artists – the ones who’ve gone on to greatest artistic success/fame/richness aren’t always the winners.

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George Shaw exhibition opens with lots of champagne … and cider

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,

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EXCLUSIVE: Turner Prize nominee George Shaw talks about his first major Coventry exhibition

GeorgeShaw1

IN The Herbert gallery in Coventry the paintings are on the wall, and the final preparations are being made for George Shaw: I woz ere to open to the public.
It’s the first big home-town exhibition for George, born in the city in 1966, and he’s here overseeing the work and admitting to feeling a little anxious about how it will be received.
“It’s all right doing this, thinking about it before I came to do it wasn’t. Without Rosie’s [Addenbrooke, senior exhibitions and events officer] enthusiasm and commitment it wouldn’t have happened. It was something I was avoiding. You are always afraid of doing something you haven’t done before.
“I was slightly anxious the reality of the situation would take over from the work. In many ways it has but not in a negative sense.”

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Coventry artist George Shaw on Turner Prize shortlist

The shortlist for art’s most prestigious award, the Turner Prize, is due to be announced tonight – and Coventry-born artist George Shaw is among the contenders.
The list is due to be announced on Channel 4 news from 7pm tonight, but several leaks on Twitter and on various websites name Karla Black, Martin Boyce, Hilary Lloyd and George Shaw as the names up for the award this year.

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