I’ve blogged about the painter, George Shaw, before – most recently when he was short listed for this year’s Turner Prize. Now, anyone who doesn’t know his work well, and missed the recent show, The Sly & Unseen Day, at the Baltic, can catch a somewhat abbreviated version at the South London Gallery until July 3rd.
Shaw’s paintings, executed in Humbrol enamel on board, which gives them a particular sheen, take as their subject matter the housing estates of his teenage years in the Tile Hill area of Coventry. Based on material gleaned from hundreds of photographs Shaw has taken on return trips to his home turf, the landscape they show is one of what seems an oddly deserted, uninhabited hinterland – side alleys, deserted playgrounds, locked doors, the backs of pubs and social clubs.
Across the foot of so many of the paintings there is an area of concrete, of tiles, of open ground that seems to invite you in, and if it’s an invitation you accept then you can almost smell the damp fungoid air of neglect and despair. And as a viewer you’re always being led to ask what has happened in these places, to these (unseen) people, what is happening now?
I’m reminded of the jacket design for one of my own books, Flesh & Blood, the central image of which is an almost monochrome caravan sitting in the midst of a patch of otherwise deserted scrubby ground, with dull yellow light showing hazily through two of the windows, so that, looking at it, you know something terrible has happened inside.
And Shaw, whose formative reading encompasses not only the realist fiction of Sillitoe and Barstow, but also works of crime fiction, is only too aware, I think, of such possibilities. In an interview with the late Gordon Burn, published in the exhibition catalogue, Shaw talks of : ” … my own influences, stuff to do with banality, the relationship that banality has with, say, horror.”
Whatever is happening here, it is more than superbly executed social realism, it is something happening in the gaps : the slippage between what is seen and what is suggested, what we take in at a first glance and what lingers on the retina after turning away.