george shaw – the sly and unseen day at the south london gallery

6 July 2011 § 1 Comment

My schedule for visiting exhibitions tends to follow one of two scenarios. First is to visit at the very earliest opportunity – usually on the opening day or two. The other, equally frequently, is to realise the closing is approaching fast and make some panicky last minute plans. That was indeed the case with George Shaw. Not greatly attracted to the hike out to Peckham I delayed several times only to realise it was the closing weekend.

The Sly and Unseen Day turned out to be well worth the expedition in to the wilderness (only joking Peckham residents). The show featured Shaw’s trademark works – scenes from the urban lansdcape of his childhood – the dreary postwar Tile Hill Estate in the West Midlands. From this source the subjects chosen are removed a further stage – we see the remote, unnoticed and ‘unseen’; old metal fences, graffiti-ridden garage doors, park fences, workmens sheds and muddy puddles. The sky is almost invariably a dull grey, it looks like it has just rained – or is just about to. Nobody is present.

Painted in Humbrol enamel, a paint more familiar for those making airfix planes than fine art, the colours are muted. The scenes become strangely detached, the gloss finish also emphasising the depressing damp. The absence of people creating a sense of displacement and dream.

As with many of the best artists there is no need here to read the artists statment or the gallery notes – the message is clear. There is a sense of overwhelming nostalgia which seems to almost seep from the canvas. These are fragments of memory within which there is comes a pervasive sense of the post-war history upon which modern-day Britain is built. Is this the present or the past? It could be either or both, the art hovers in its own space.

Another artist from the Wilkinson Gallery stable, to which Shaw belongs, commented to me that it was very English. It is, but the themes addressed are so universal that I cant imagine even, say, a Japanese tourist, not getting the implied messages. This art – good art – is universal as a Hopper diner or a Ruscha landscape; one instinctively gets the idea.

George Shaw is one of the  selected artists for this years Turner Prize. Can a painter be a favourite to win? Probably not, but he should certainly be a strong contender. Pity the exhibition is now closed – but keep your eyes peeled for his work!

George Shaw at the South London Gallery until 3 July 2011 (now closed).

Represented by the Wilkinson Gallery. Their next show Where Language Stops opens on the 15 July 2011.

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