‘Poets Day’, 2005/6, by George Shaw

George Shaw

Yes I know it’s hard to believe but there is a figurative painter in the final shortlist for the Turner Prize this year! George Shaw has been nominated for his solo exhibition at BALTIC, Gateshead: coincidently where the Turner Prize final exhibition is being held this year, although I don’t know if anything should be read into that. Shaw’s paintings depict the area around his childhood home in the Tile Hill area of Coventry and it is the strong associations with growing up there that are the crux of his paintings.

These paintings are haunted by the past, in using the word “haunted” I don’t want to be to fanciful, but there is a definite, strong, emotion content which they exude and that can’t be ignored. For Shaw they are unashamedly “sentimental”, they are about a childhood that, although was obviously tough, also has good memories, memories which he demonstrates in these paintings. They are kind of memories we all share from childhood, no matter how little actually happened in it and  how ordinary the place was where it didn’t happen.

  I first saw his work properly in the “Subversive Spaces: Surrealism and Contemporary Art” exhibition at the Whitworth Art Gallery Manchester in 2009; the title of this show shows how much power these painting can carry. I had been aware of Shaw’s work for some time before this but it was this actual personal contact with them that made me realise that there was for more going on here than was obvious in the photographic representations I had seen of them. The, probably, unique thing about the paintings is the fact they are painted in Humbrol enamel paint, the stuff of the boyhood kit-modeller, this gives them a strangely flat yet glossy finish which can only be appreciated when seen first hand. This quality  forms a barrier between the viewer and the scene which adds another layer to their mystique. Some people say that this is a gimmick, the jury’s out for me. I can understand Shaw’s thought process in using this medium, but I am slightly intrigued as to how much it adds to their kudos; would these just be reasonably good paintings of a council estate if they were painted in oils? I’m not sure. I  look forward to see the whole exhibition properly when I can decide for myself. But if anyone out there has seen it already please feel free to share your feelings on it.

Don’t forget, tomorrow I will be looking back to the Turner prize 1997.