George Shaw: The Last Days Of Belief preview

George Shaw - If You Ever, Could It Ever Stop

Further to my previous post, yesterday’s Evening Standard featured an interview with George Shaw and a preview of some of the works in his new exhibition. Opening 28 May ‘The Last Days Of Belief’ brings to an end an almost 20-year long artistic endeavour, where one man used the few square miles of his childhood home – the Tile Hill estate in Coventry – to map the human soul as it wanders from the familiar disappointments of the past into haunted wasteland of the 21st century. George claims that this exhibition represents the end of the Tile Hill paintings, and he’s done so by reverting back to his original intention in the mid-90’s of producing 14 paintings to depict The Stations Of The Cross. ‘Jesus falls for the first time’ would be a painting of the local pub The Black Prince, for example. Somehow that expanded into the ‘Scenes From The Passion’ series that lasted until around 2003-4, when George was at his most intensely nostalgic, applying the paint with an attention to detail and a reverence for the subject that was awe-inspiring, especially when the subject was something like a mucky old brick doorway. Dozens of paintings were created, each depicting a place that in most cases does not deserve to be painted. A lump of tarmac next to an old fence. A graffiti-strewn subway wall. A patch of burnt ground under a tree where kids have been swigging cider and shredding porn mags. Moments from a life that cast a loaded shadow over everything that’s followed, calling back to a time when life still offered the potential for something more than what the ageing process confirms. After several more years, during which the painting technique has changed, becoming looser and less obsessed with the fine detail, he’s now reached the point where it has to end, and he’s done so by using the year 1980 as the delineator between what could have been and what never was, using lines from songs of that year as titles for the new paintings. This Silbury Hill-like mound of dirt below is ‘The Boys All Shout For Tomorrow’:

George Shaw - The Boys All Shout For Tomorrow

George’s curtailment of the Tile Hill project is sad in a way. It’s a bit like The Jam splitting up, when lads at our school wore black armbands in commemoration of the solemn occasion, but it’s also an acknowledgement that all artists have to grow and evolve. There’s only so much gold you can mine from the same seam, only so many good albums you can make, after which you become your own tribute act. In taking inspiration from George’s work, I feel at times like I’ve got too close to the source (see the evidence here), so with this exhibition comes something of a sense of relief. I feel oddly unshackled by the notion that I no longer having to follow his example, and I’m now free to do whatever I want. I’ve been wanting to do something different from some time now, but it had come to feel that to do so would have been almost an act of betrayal, which I think says more about how my mind works than anything else, but it was George’s work that saved my artistic soul in 2008 and I will always feel indebted to him for that. As a result, I will complete a final painting in tribute to George’s influence over the past 7 years (I’ve even called it ‘The Passion’), and then, like George, move on down new avenues.

‘The Last Days Of Belief’ is at Wilkinson Gallery, London, May 28 – July 12 2015

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