Failure in both art and society can be drawn from a lack of sincerity, an unwillingness to understand the true inspirations and motivations of people. You could argue that art can be frequently guilty of this – offering bombastic statements, or inaccessible conundrums fueled by complex literary references.
In The Sly and Unseen Day
, George Shaw
(Coventry, 1966) builds a rich vocabulary of allusions to “Middle Britai
n”; it aims not to bombard the audience with new ideas about the logistics of modern-day society but takes a real and in-depth look at the real architecture of life for many.
Shaw’s uninhabited paintings at first could be seen as bleak but inspiringly devotional acts, meticulously encapsulating his own arbitrary observations during a walk around a run-down housing estate in Britain in flat and lustrous enamel paint.
Walking through the exhibition you are immersed in some forty paintings, detailing footpaths, beholding garage shutters with a patina of graffiti tags, grey and red-brick post-war homes that are lit dimly by streetlights outside or by the residual glow from tv sets inside. Wrestling his chosen medium to submit to these habitual landmarks transforms Shaw’s works from the simple documentation of a seemingly unremarkable place to one person’s endeavour to encapsulate this environment in time and memory.
These small and innate truths can expose more about the realities of human nature than any sweeping statement. There is much to be said for locality, especially for the creative-minded. A strong sense of identity and an immediate network of support can nourish the individual, instilling the confidence to boldly explore new territory. Viewed in its entirety this exhibition could be seen as commentary on this idea: a microcosm through which Shaw is highlighting a society that has become increasingly de-centered.
The artist’s experiences growing up in the Tile Hill housing estate outside Coventry were unified with a national community through the tv and through music of Shaw’s time growing up here. Music clearly identified with such places – The Smiths, The Specials, Joy Division or TV sitcoms - The Likely Lads, Steptoe and Son spoke honestly and optimistically about life in housing estates, the union and drama of family and neighbours. These contemporary figures led many people working and living their lives in a locality to affiliate themselves with a wider community.
In parallel to popular culture Shaw’s work also points to religion’s role in unifying the individual’s outlook. The exhibition is broken down into series that are given names such as Ash Wednesday and Scenes From The Passion, looking to the New Testament but inspired by the Greek and Latin epigraphs used by TS Eliot and James Joyce.
Baltic’s third floor gallery is restructured to limit your viewing to one or two series at a time and so you are not hit by the magnitude of the Tile Hill paintings at once, instead they hit you in waves, one series at a time.
Progressing through your journey around the estate, led by Shaw you are struck by the degree of fanaticism: these paintings become one man trapped in a votive act. By using the means that he had readily available at his parent’s house one speculates that Shaw’s first paintings in this medium must have been fuelled by an insatiable urge to paint and expel his creative urges while still at their most potent. In perseverance with his unconventional use of model maker’s gloss paint to create photo-realist landscapes, these works evoke a peculiarly British attitude creating an undertone of constrained creativity.
The almost sinister behaviour of a train-spotter springs to mind: holding an obsession that is born originally out of an instinctive reaction to the splendour and marvel of engineering, but turned into an obsessive-compulsive fixation to record and categorize – not just to simply to revel in the experience.
In 2004 Shaw broadcast on Channel 4 an episode titled “The Late George Shaw” with The Art Show in which he detailed himself his artwork and the housing estate that inspired it. This work, through familiar means, places his extensive painting practice – visited monumentally in The Sly and Unseen Day – within an overarching concern in Shaw’s work; the futile attempts of man to defeat the inevitable transience of place, memory and life.dawn bothwell
show visited on April the 9th, 2011
From February the 25th to June the 12th, 2011
George Shaw- The Sly and Unseen Day
BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art -
Gateshead Quays , South Shore Road, Gateshead NE8 3BA
Tel: +44 (0) 191 4781810
Opening Hours: Monday-Sunday from 9.30 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.