There’s something missing from all of George Shaw’s super realist and enamelled views of suburban neglect on show at the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity College. The inhabitants. Their absence is palpable. It’s as though they have all vacated the scene or lie hidden outside the field of view, deciding not to reveal themselves. As a result we the viewer become the protagonist. In this respect the paintings are reminiscent of the departed event that so often haunts the works of Edward Hopper. As in those American scenes Shaw has used the everyday or mundane to evoke a sense of the melancholic or the uncanny.
Shaw’s paintings do not depict pleasant picket-fenced idylls or uber-cool metro apartments or some cosy Corrie redbrick domesticity. Rather they reveal rubble and broken garages, wasteland at the back of a housing scheme, demolished dwellings on the margins and the detritus of failed lives. They throw a spotlight on that peculiarly British urban post-war planning that spawned forgettable new towns like Harlow, Peterborough Stevenage, or Crawley. They are not cities like Birmingham, Glasgow or Liverpool. They are the bland urban fringes you bypass on the way to somewhere else. They have never really been taken seriously yet this is where real people live in the metropolitan hinterlands.
Stripping away any intervening personality in the paintings of course leaves us to contemplate what’s left. Frayed ropes appear consistently in the paintings hanging from trees. These mark the totemic attempts by generations of kids to humanise their environment. We have all as children played in places through sheer lack of choice and yet been able to bring our own personalising qualities to a place. But there is also perhaps an ominous quality to ropes hanging from branches.
Shaw’s views are often at twilight or dusk effusing Romantic overtones. If Casper David Friedrich had grown up on a council estate in contemporary Britain this is perhaps how he would depict his surroundings. George Shaw’s paintings, particularly his triptych of skeletal winter trees, have a similar sense of the Sublime seen in the great nineteenth century Romantic works of Friedrich. Indeed they evoke the original understanding of what the Sublime meant – a sense of foreboding or threat. Of what exactly remains unstated as we can’t see beyond the framing – the images being cropped like photos. We as the viewer are the outcasts from these people’s lives.
Shaw’s modern landscape views also echo the recent work of Willie Doherty and his sense of the uncanny and the hidden stories and depths lurking in suburban decay.
George Shaw’s scenes are painted on board utilising his now signature Humbrol hobbyist enamel paints and are painstaking realistic. But equally there is a flatness and artificial surface to them.
Historic forms of painting never go away, they just evolve and mutate. Shaw’s paintings are cold, cool, unfriendly but ultimately sad and treat their subjects with due reverence and pathos. This is modern landscape painting as it should be.
George Shaw Neither My Arse Nor My Elbow runs at the Douglas Hyde Gallery, Trinity College until January 15th
Photo credits from top:
George Shaw: Homesick, 2013, Humbrol enamel on board, 115.5 x 152 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London
George Shaw: The End of Pleasure, 2013 Humbrol enamel on board, 92 x 120 cm. Courtesy of the artist
Casper David Friedrich: The Abbey in the Oakwood, 1809-10, Oil on canvas, 110 x 171 cm. Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin
George Shaw: The Building of the Winter Palace, 2013, Humbrol enamel on board, 115.5 x 152 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London
George Shaw: The End of Work, 2013, Humbrol enamel on board, 92 x 120 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Wilkinson Gallery, London