George Shaw offers a painfully bleak vision of Britain’s forgotten corners, writes Andrew Mead
The artist George Shaw grew up in the 1970s in Tile Hill on the edge of Coventry, one of the city’s post-war neighbourhoods. He now lives in the West Country, but Tile Hill remains the subject of his paintings, the latest of which are at the Wilkinson Gallery in Hackney, East London, until 5 April. It’s a place of pitched-roof terraces, patches of wasteland and scrubby woods, where things – whether goalposts or gravestones – are on the verge of collapse (see picture). In some cases, buildings have been demolished, but there’s no sign of a replacement – you sense that nothing’s going to happen in a hurry. Even nature doesn’t come to the rescue: one recurring feature is a stark truncated tree.
It has become a convention to say of mundane sites like these, whether painted or photographed, that the artist has found a kind of beauty in them. ‘He turns the drab corners of forgotten Britain into scenes of eerie beauty,’ said a recent profile of Shaw in The Times (28.02.09). I’m not sure that’s true. Tile Hill isn’t redeemed by the way
Shaw depicts it: the drabness and exhaustion remain. In a way his works are generic, for they evoke so many corners of the post-war UK. Shaw paints what happened after architectural magazines ran their optimistic features and turned their attention elsewhere. It’s not a pretty sight, but it has clearly got under his skin.