George Shaw makes remarkable paintings of Tile Hill, the council estate in Coventry where he grew up in the Seventies and Eighties, that reveal the latent beauty even in the most mundane subject matter.
Shaws hyper-realistic paintings record the run-down and often over-looked aspects of modern life. Where landscape painters such as Constable and Turner found majesty and the sublime in pastoral settings, Shaw does so in a world of abandoned garages, huge England flags in windows and foreboding paths through suburban woodland.
A Corner of a Foreign Field is the first major retrospective of Shaws work, and Baths Holburne Museum
is the only European venue for this exhibition. It features 20 paintings and 50 drawings that span Shaws career from 1996 to the present day, including several new works never previously seen in the UK.
Much of A Corner of a Foreign Field focuses on scenes of the Tile Hill estate and the ancient woods surrounding it. Rather than using traditional oil or acrylic paints, Shaw prefers Humbrol - the thick, quick-drying enamel paint used by model airplane and car enthusiasts to create an almost photographic effect. His work casts an eye on both the prosaic, quotidian and ordinary.
During his teenage years, Shaw would often explore the neglected woodland around his home, strewn with abandoned rubbish. He recalls feeling something out of the ordinary could happen at any time there, away from the supervision of adults.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2011, George recalled of Tile Hill: "It was there's no other way to put it a nice place to grow up. A post-war council estate on the edge of Coventry, with trees, grass and loads of woodland just beyond. The last built-up area before the countryside took over. I don't think it has ever left me, that sense of possibility and familiarity and possible danger lurking out there somewhere beyond. I haunted the place and now it haunts me."
It is often overlooked that Shaw is a contemporary of Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Marcus Harvey, though he appears to have eschewed the YBA limelight and notoriety. Indeed, as his friend, the late art critic and novelist Gordon Burn, once observed Shaw paints in, "
the back room of the social club in Tile Hill with all the seriousness of Monet painting Rouen Cathedral".
As the Holburne show reveals, Shaw is amongst our most important contemporary artists, documenting everyday life through urban landscapes, albeit devoid of people, pets and wildlife. Rather it is the objects they leave behind, damage or display in windows that catches his eye.
As Shaw told Sean OHagan during his Guardian interview, he regards his paintings as, "teeming with human presences". "The people I grew up with, family, passers-by, they are all in there somewhere, embedded in the paintings."
George says Bath is such an historic city and Holburne Museum seems so grand that Im quite humbled to think of my paintings being on display. Its quite easy to lose yourself in these environments, which I suppose is very welcome at times. I hope my paintings, of a place without the weight of history, bring something of the familiar and the ordinary and a reminder that real life goes on and has its own beauty.
Chris Stephens, the Holburnes Director notes, This show is the first major focus on a solo living artist for the Holburne. We are thrilled to be hosting this retrospective following its highly acclaimed display at the prestigious Yale Center for British Art. Shaw is one of the UKs leading contemporary painters, one who engages with the art of the past in sophisticated ways whilst addressing issues of the moment.
George Shaw: A Corner of a Foreign Field has been organized by the Yale Center for British Art in collaboration with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and the Holburne Museum in Bath, UK.
The book to accompany the exhibition - A Corner of a Foreign Field - is available from the Holburne Shop, priced £45.