George Shaw, No Returns, 2009, Humbrol enamel on board, 147.5 × 198 cm.

The Local and Universal Qualities of George Shaw's Paintings

George Shaw, Ash Wednesday, 8:30 a.m., 2004/5, Humbrol enamel on board, © the Artist, courtesy Wilkinson Gallery, London.

George Shaw, The Back That Used to be The Front, 2008, Humbrol enamel on board, 91 × 121 cm.

George Shaw,Thin Ice, 2009, Humbrol enamel on board (43 × 53 cm).

George Shaw, 2000 AD, 2008, Humbrol enamel on board, 46 × 55 cm.


Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art
Gateshead Quays
South Shore Road
+ 44 (0)191 478 1810

George Shaw. The Sly and Unseen Day
February 18-May 15, 2011

The Sly and Unseen Day is the first historical examination of the artist’s work to date, bringing together some 40 paintings from1996 to the present day.

Within a practice that has encompassed drawing, video-making, performance and writing, Shaw is best known for his expansive body of painting. Working from photographs taken of and around his childhood home on the Tile Hill Estate, Coventry, Shaw’s landscapes are at once familiar and unnerving. Unassuming buildings, patches of woodland, pubs, his school, the park, and the arbitrary details of urban infrastructure deposited by town planners, are the cast of a series of paintings ongoing since the mid-1990s.

Painted exclusively in Humbrol enamel, the material of choice for teenage model-makers, Shaw’s subject matter brings about associations of domesticity, folk art and a nostalgia for a lost childhood and adlescence. Yet, as The Sly and Unseen Day reveals, Shaw’s art quickly moves beyond the autobiography it first suggests. His jarring, atmospheric paintings become peculiar records of Englishness and are suggestive of a different state of mind. Even his more tranquil paintings, for example Scenes from the Passion: Pig Wood and Scenes from the Passion: The Way Home (both 1999), included within the exhibition, retain a peculiar tension.

As the exhibition progresses we see Shaw take an investigative journey, typically making something out of nothing, as beauty is found in the mundane. The Ash Wednesday series (2004-5) depicts the estate hour-by-hour on a single day. Other paintings, such as The Age of Bullshit 2010 (a demolished pub) and The Assumption 2010 (the local school), offer a curious record of British social and class life. Conflating memory and present day reality, Shaw’s art takes on an uncanny quality, alluding to a murkier side of contemporary society and collective subconscious.

This will be the largest exhibition of the artist’s work to date and will be accompanied by a major new publication with essays by Michael Bracewell and Laurence Sillars, a new piece of fiction by Peter Hobbs and an unpublished conversation between the artist and Gordon Burn conducted in 2007.

George Shaw was born in 1966 in Coventry. He studied Fine Art at Sheffield Polytechnic from 1986-89 and gained an MA in painting from the Royal College of Art in London in 1998.

Solo exhibitions have included Looking for Baz. Shaz. Gaz and Daz, Void, Derry (2010); Woodsman, Wilkinson Gallery, London (2009) The End of the World, Galerie Hussenot, Paris (2008); A Day for a Small Poet, Clough Hanson Gallery, Rhodes College, Memphis, USA (2007) Poets Day, Centre d ‘Art Contemporain, Geneva (2006); Ash Wednesday, Wilkinson Gallery, London (2005), What I did this Summer, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham (2003).

He has participated in group shows in London at White Cube, Tate Britain, Whitechapel Gallery, Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) and the Jerwood Gallery. Internationally he has exhibited at Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, Michael Kohn Gallery, Los Angeles, City Art Gallery, Prague, Ex-Teresa Arte Actual, Mexico and Fabian Walter Galerie, Basel.

George Shaw

George Shaw, The Art Teacher, 2009, Pencil on paper (76 × 56 cm).

George Shaw,This Sporting Life, 2009, Humbrol enamel on board (43 × 53 cm).

George Shaw, Where First and Last Things Sound the Same, 2009, Humbrol enamel on board, 43 x 53 cm.

George Shaw, The End of Time, 2008-9, Humbrol enamel on board, 147.5 x 198 cm.

George Shaw, A Little Later, 2009, Humbrol enamel on board, 92 x 121 cm.

Meditations on a Midlands Pub that Burned and no Longer Exists

50-58 Vyner Street
+ 44 20 8980 2662
Main Galleries
George Shaw: Woodsman
February 28-April 9, 2009

Oh so I drank one
or was it four
and when I fell on the floor..
...I drank more
stop me, stop me
stop me if you think that you've
heard this one before
nothing's changed
I still love you
I still love you
but only slightly
less than I used to

Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before, The Smiths

Woodsman was the new name of the local pub on the Midlands estate on which Shaw grerw up. Years before when it was called The New Star his mother worked there and his father had the odd drink there. Shaw himself recalls it as being post-war British modern — "which is a longer way of saying it was shite" — and hardly warmed at all by the white heat of optimism promised by the period of its and the artist's birth; "I remember it as being dimly Victorian in a strange way. It was an age when the insides of pubs were hidden by net curtains so there wasn't much daylight." He does not know why it was renamed Woodsman but suspects it was a marketing gamble. However it soon caught fire and was later demolished. The corner on which it stood remains empty and is no doubt a redevelopment opportunity.

Shaw's previous work has seen him looking back over scenes of childhood and adolescence. In this new show he looks again at familiar places as they pass into unfamiliarity.


He suspects things are being taken from him and his work is shadowed by an anxiety of himself being taken; a pub vanishes overnight, a library is boarded up, garages are flattened. In large charcoal drawings Shaw returns to the woods he has painted many times.

These woods were there before any of the houses and their inhabitants, but here too we see signs of violence of time passing; some trees have fallen in the wind or simply of old age, others cut down by unseen hands, paths blocked and new clearings appear. Old and new stumps stick up here and there. It is a landscape that recalls pictures of the Somme, Eliot's Wasteland, or the opening lines of Poe's Fall of the House of Usher; "The woods was a place of escape and I suppose it still is. Sometimes it is more like being inside than outside. You can hear the world nearby — kids playing, cars passing, grass being cut — but it's over there and outside. Now the woodsman has come. He brings the outside. He brings the present tense. Behind him comes the close of day."

The influences Shaw cites in the making of these works include the late landscapes of Millais, two paintings of Lowry's, The Lake (1937) and An Island (1942), Thomas Hardy, Terence Davies' film Trilogy, the 1970s TV series Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, Philip Larkin and the music of The Specials and The Smiths.

"There is no new work. It is the old work rotting and I can't recognise it anymore. It is the old world rotting and I see it for what it is. For the first time maybe. It is departing slowly from me. Waving gently and nodding as though it will all be OK in the end, that it's just nature, just the way of things. The things that made me are in themselves becoming unmade. What appeared permanent and solid and outside of time is coming apart and falling behind itself.

"Memory becomes as unreliable as forgetting. Reality lacks the poetry of melting into air. The familiar falls beyond use and lies in the way. I carry within myself an older man. His illness slows me, his dried mouth robs me of speech, his amnesia forces me to live in the today.

But after all this I still cannot come to terms with the simple fact that life slips away and time is called everywhere everyday. What some may call a subject or an idea or an answer to the question what is your work about? is only an act of holding on."

George Shaw, Stump with Roots, 2008-9, Humbrol enamel on board, 147.5 x 198 cm.

George Shaw, Woodsman 5, 2009, Charcoal on paper, 152.5 x 198 cm (paper size).

George Shaw, Woodsman 1, 2008-9, Charcoal on paper, 152.5 x 198 cm, (paper size).