January 27th, 2012

breaking bad

George Shaw

I recommend anyone who can get to The Herbert art gallery in Coventry to try to see the exhibition of paintings by George Shaw, which is there until the 11th March. Shaw was tipped for the Turner prize this year, and I think he should have got it. The paintings are photo-realist pictures of Tile Hill, which is a working class estate in South Coventry, not far from where I live now. The images are very like the estates in Birmingham and Darlington where I lived as a child. The pictures are done in the cheap bright enamel paints used to paint model toys. Like Van Gogh I think that the experience of seeing the originals far surpasses seeing a reproduction. Technically there are some errors in the photographic rendition of locations. But the light and luminosity makes the pictures full of life and intensity. I felt stunned by them.

In my poems Back Alleyways of the West Midlands and The Secret Commonwealth I was trying to convey the same quality which Shaw manages to get across in these paintings. Or as Shaw says in his commentary on the exhibition:
All these things that had been familiar to me gradually became strange and part of another world and yet still so ordinary.

That's how I felt a few years ago when I went back to the estate I lived in as a child, or back to my grandmother's house. These paintings show the intense presence of litter strewn areas and working class buildings, and wet sky glowing full of dense clouds. They are somewhat like pre-Raphaelite paintings, in their overwrought colour and thickness. Shaw has shown the places without people, and with all signage and text removed, apart from graffiti.

Here is an article in the Guardian arguing that Shaw should have won. I didn't have strong feelings about this until I saw the actual paintings. Now I agree.
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