The artist George Shaw was one of this year’s nominees for the Turner Prize but unfortunately he didn’t win. I think that’s a shame as he’s basically my favourite contemporary painter.
For a modern painter, especially among the Turner crowd, he is unusual as he’s a realist. He paints views of the small drab council estate near Coventry that he grew up in. These are absent of any people. They could be post-plague, post-nuclear attack or just from a quiet Wednesday afternoon. He paints almost exclusively using Humbrol paints – the type of paint that is more typicaly used for model aeroplanes etc. The paintings have a surface sheen but in contrast the actual colours are oddly flat, without being dull. This gives his work a unique quality that takes it away from the traditional oils or watercolour – evoking memory or a dream.
The art critics, even Shaw himself, all talk about his bleakness – but I don’t really see it myself. May be it is because I spent a few years in or close to siimilar environments during my own childhood and teens that I don’t see them as so hostile. And even though I was close to the countryside – it wasn’t the inner cities – this wasn’t the picturesque ‘beautiful’ British landscapes of a Constable – it was just boring fields (though I do seem to remember more cows than you see now). But I think you can find beauty in the ordinary – brambles growing up a bit of barbed-wire fence or the patterns in the chipped paint of a old garage door or just some shadows from a tree on the side of a house.
There’s a sequence in the film This Is England where the young protagonist is spending time on his own and there’s some rather beautiful shots of the council estate where he lives. This really resonated with me. My childhood was not as solitary but I remember doing much the same at times when I was kid. May be that’s ultimately what I take from Shaw that others don’t, nostalgia.
Unfortunately I’ve not been able to make it up to the Baltic to see the Turner Prize exhibition this year but I saw a couple of Shaw’s paintings in Nottingham last year with the British Art Show and they are even more impressive and striking in real life.
Damien Hirst didn’t win the Turner first time around either (nominated in ’92, won in 95), so fingers-crossed that Shaw can do the same.
Turner prize 2011 contenders: George Shaw – video
George Shaw: ‘Sometimes I look at my work and its conservatism shocks me’
Estate of mine: George Shaw introduces The Sly and Unseen Day at Baltic – video