I Woz There

My 2016 painting ‘A Sort Of Homecoming’. Acrylic and ink on watercolour paper. It depicts a location on the Tile Hill estate in Coventry, the one memorialised by former resident George Shaw, who’s been painting it for over 25 years now. Regular readers will know that seeing George’s paintings in late 2008 completely changed the direction of my own art, forcing me to finally learn how to paint and to then apply it to something that had all the passion and intensity of George’s best work. I was, for several years, utterly obsessed with his paintings, and occassionaly lapsed into blind emulation of his example, which was useful in terms of learning my craft, but at some stage I was going to have to crawl out from under the shadow of his influence and find my own obsessions. There is much common ground though, as I also grew up on a council estate on the far fringes of a large city (Leeds), and when I finally got to visit Tile Hill in 2015, I was not really surprised at how similar it was to the place I was raised in. The same streets, the same houses, the same pubs, the same rows of knackered garages, and the same pockets of woodland and wasteland. I took many photographs while I was there, mainly of scenes I knew from George’s paintings, but also several that looked like they should be painted by George, including the one above. This is the path that leads to where a row of collapsing garages once stood, representing a gateway into the “Narnia” of Tile Hill Wood. Not long after, I saw that George had made a watercolour – ‘I Woz Ere #1’ – of the exact same scene:

Anyway. I sent the original of ‘A Sort of Homecoming’ to George, and had forgotten all about it until I found it in my archives the other day. I will never forget that period after first discovering his work, when I realised I was going to have to pretty much abandon everything I’d done up to that point and start over. Tabula rasa. Year Zero. I’ll always be grateful for his example and influence, but these days I feel free to do only that which I can do, and sometimes that might be a landscape of the place I grew up. The main lesson I got from George was that “we may be done with the past, but is the past done with us?”

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