George Shaw: The Sly and Unseen Day

George Shaw, No Returns, 2009, Humbrol enamel on board

As widely noted, the biggest shock of this year’s Turner Prize shortlist is painter George Shaw’s affinity with the enthusiasts who build model Spitfires.

He doesn’t hide the fact that Humbrol enamel is his medium of choice. And it now looks like a conceptual statement carried to an extreme. He will have got through gallons.

Most use these paints straight from the tin. So the scene above works like a joke at its own expense. Painting the fence looks to have been very much like painting a real fence.

At other times, Shaw renders graffiti or brickwork in a way that recalls the literal-minded approach of a man finishing off a masterpiece of glue and plastic.

There is little individualism to these works. And that may be why so many British visitors can see their own childhoods and adolescence in the scenes. It’s as if we all grew up in Tile Hill.

It is perverse to come from art school these days and make nostalgic, representational art. And what’s more it is perverse to use the materials he does, as the artist himself admits.

George Shaw knows better and we know he knows better. But the fact he has persisted in this project for 15 years, and that we may well enjoy the results, is intriguing.

That’s not a guilty pleasure, but it is surely an illicit one. The Coventry estate here is a place where none of us are up to any good, where even hanging around could be the biggest of risks.

The Sly and Unseen Day can be seen at South London Gallery until 3 July 2011. See gallery website for more details.

They’ve also posted a video clip where Shaw gets embarrassed about using Humbrol paints! For an equally revealing interview with the artist see this Guardian interview from earlier this year.

2 thoughts on “George Shaw: The Sly and Unseen Day

    1. I see you grew up there in both a literal and metaphorical sense. I grew up in Essex and Cambridgeshire, but it’s amazing how familiar Tile Hill looked in this show.

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