A Sort Of Homecoming
Here’s a new painting:
It’s an ink & wash study, based on this reference photo:
which was taken at the same location as George Shaw captured his reference for this watercolour:
George Shaw grew up in Tile Hill, a council estate 3 miles outside of Coventry. He’s famous for painting that place with a Pre-Raphaelite sense of the sublime that, to some, would seem inappropriate for such “mundane” subject matter. Boarded-up shops, fly-tipped hedgerows, graffitied walls and muddy woodland paths – none of this accords with the classic vision of a British Arcadia, and yet when I first saw his work in 2008 the entire course of my artistic life was changed. Suddenly here was someone painting the kind of scenes I’d always thought were important, but would never have dared to try and pass off as art. Ever since that revelation I have studied his work closely, collecting books and clippings and video files, trying to understand why his work means so much to me, and how I can possibly assimilate this undeniably powerful infuence in my own work without coming across as some kind of tribute act. It’s not been easy, but I always suspected that key to this understanding would be to actually go to Tile Hill myself and see some of the places he chose to paint. Last month I had the opportunity to spend a few hours there and it was a very strange experience. As familiar as I am with his work, I recognised so many of the scenes he’s painted that I quickly felt like I was walking around in someone else’s head. I knew one important place was the site just around the corner from his family home where a row of garages used to stand. This is a place he’s painted many times over the years, and to finally stand there was quite surreal. It was mid-morning, deathly quiet except for crows calling in the adjacent woods, and I felt a palpable sense of something, some immanence that refused to be defined in anything as rudimentary as human language. It was as if all the intensity of feeling he’s brought to this location – now nothing more than a stretch of crumbling tarmac and concrete, slowly disappearing under the weeds – had left a trace. I didn’t have long to linger there, so I took some of my 0wn photos, and went off around the estate, recognishing a good two dozen or so further places that he’s painted in the last 20 years, and whilst it was never my intention to use any of those photos for my own art, I could not dispel the notion that I’d have to do at least one, just to see what the results would be. So what you see above is the result of about 5 hours work, which is quite quick for me, using a technique of ink drawing washed with watered-down acrylic. It’s the pathway that leads to where the garages used to stand, and it reminded me of similar places from my own childhood in Leeds, places that hardly deserve recording in artistic terms, and yet they hold such personal import that they can’t easily be forgotten. I’m glad to have done this painting, I’m glad to have gone to Tile Hill, but now what I do is yet to become apparent. I suppose that, like George, I’ll have to keep doing my work and wait for the big epiphany… and should it never come then I’ll at least have something to show for my time on earth.