Memory bank

George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The Swing, 2002-3

The landscapes in George Shaw’s paintings all conceal stories but in this case the narratives are Shaw’s own childhood memories. For the series Scenes from the Passion, Shaw worked from photographs taken within a half mile radius of the house he grew up in. The area is unremarkable and, in Shaw’s paintings, unpopulated. There is a bleakness here but also perhaps a sense of anticipation. Though the area is very specifically the territory of Shaw’s childhood in a way it feels like the paintings depict a kind of everytown. There are certainly scenes here that I can match against my own suburban London upbringing.

The Age of Bullshit, 2010

In quite a few of Shaw’s paintings the weather is dreary in that way that is frustrating to a child who wants to play out. The paintings don’t feel sad to me at all, but the greyness adds to the sense that we are waiting for something to happen. Some of the narratives here are highly personal to Shaw – the burnt out pub which featured in an earlier painting before its destruction – was the last place Shaw had a drink with his father, for instance. But without that detail the painting perhaps encapsulates something more universal in terms of the way life changes over time – pubs are closing all the time, phone boxes are disappearing as everyone carries a mobile in their pocket – and opens up other questions about the different way children experience their local environment now that car travel is the norm. With this thought in my mind, the greyness gives a wistful feeling.

The Time Machine, 2010

Shaw talks about The Time Machine in terms of the phone box as a signifier of a different age. There was no phone in his childhood home – a fairly normal state of affairs at the time – now everyone carries their own phone and phone boxes have become relics (Shaw says the last time he saw this box in use it was by someone talking on their mobile).

The Blossomiest Blossom, 2001

Shaw paints with the same Humbrol enamel paint he used to paint Airfix model aeroplanes as a child – the material’s more expected use – so the works have a strangely shiny, impervious surface. This sheen is not the look we expect of paintings and, added to Shaw’s almost-but-not-quite photorealistic style it gives his work an odd feel. This is reality filtered through memory and it’s this that makes the work so powerful.

The Unicorn, 2003

3 thoughts on “Memory bank

  1. Also me too as well equally.
    Whenever I think ‘George Shaw’, I think ‘Turner Prize’ and ‘robbed blind’. I also think, like you, ‘I know that place’; a rare, glittering talent that can deploy such hard-edged, hard-boiled technique to evoke the fleeting ephemera of memory.
    Give that man a gong.

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