George Shaw: I.D.S.T.

This is my all-time favourite book. Published to accompany George Shaw’s 2001 exhibition ‘The New Life’, ‘I.D.S.T.’ is one of the most unique art books I’ve ever seen. Seeing George’s art for the first time in Autumn 2008 completely changed my life, and forced me to make a drastic change in my own artistic development. I got my copy for a tenner from Abebooks and there is no amount of drugs that could ever replicate the effect it had on me when I first opened it.

The whole design of the book by Martin Bird is perfectly aligned with George’s project at the time, which was a nostalgic revisiting of his youth growing up on a Coventry council estate, painting scenes from within the immediate radius of his childhood home. Anyone who attended secondary school in the late 70’s/early 80’s will remember the practice of using sheets of wallpaper to protect the covers of exercise books, and, that practice is replicated, complete with scrawled names, lesson notes, and even a clipping of murdered paper boy Carl Bridgwater. Conforming to school exercise book dimensions, the inner pages are lined and margined, with each of the paintings presented as if they were photographs glued in. Among the reproductions of the paintings are other images that help reinforce the specific aesthetic they’re going for, including Cathy Hargreaves from Grange Hill, pages from a copy of Mayfair strewn along a woodland path (which he would later revisit during his National Gallery residency), and photos of the artist himself when he was a student, dressed as a skinhead or Arthur Seaton from Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

The really important content though is the paintings, and this book includes a lot of them, dating back from his days at the Royal College up to 2001, a 5-year period when he really became adept at his chosen medium of enamel paint. He acknowledges that the choice of painting detailed landscapes with enamels is a perverse one, but it’s the difficulties of working with that medium that forced him to really evolve a unique technique.

The subject matter – the streets, the garages, the woods, the shops, the playgrounds of Tile Hill as once was – is something I would never believed would be tolerated by the art world as a valid subject, but he brought to it a fierce working class auto-didacticism and a deep obsession with British culture (everything from the Pre-Raphaelites to Carry On films, from Samuel Beckett to Peter Sutcliffe) that gave every scene depicted an immensely powerful atmosphere, each one sending me hurtling back to my own youth, spent wandering around my home time, thinking too much and never realising at the time how much the place was imprinting itself in my imagination. The book includes my all-time favourite painting ‘Scenes From The Passion: Hometime’:

It could easily have been a scene from my own life and I find it utterly compelling. A print of it hangs framed above my work desk, and every day I look at it and feel a deep connection to the kid I was and feel the renewed surge of ambition that he once felt and which burns within me still. I really can’t overstate the importance this book holds for me. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be a painter and given how demoralised I’d felt about art before I discovered George’s work, I might well have given up on art altogether.

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