George Shaw: The New Life At Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, 242 Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 until 2 December (Thurs-Sun) George Shaw accompanies his paintings with substantial blocks of text, but they are self-sufficient, writes Alan Powers. They are all depictions of sites in Coventry associated with the artist's childhood, including two schools, a pub and a number of evocative 'nowhere'places that for most people probably carry some charge of mystery and meaning. The settings are often mundane, but they have the quality of Carel Weight backgrounds, where the commonplace becomes specially evocative.
They stand in a tradition which goes further back into the 19th century, with unpeopled Pre-Raphaelite landscapes under heightened conditions of light (particularly by Ford Madox Brown). Shaw might be a contemporary Atkinson Grimshaw, minus moon or gaslight, for he has a meticulous eye and a technique, using Humbrol enamel paints, with which he succeeds in creating both tone and detail in a deliberately painstaking way. The results are close to photorealism, but Shaw clearly observes real effects of light and depth and knows how to paint trees as well as asphalt after rain.
The technique sounds like a gimmick, but the shiny flat surface of the paint, with completely flat skies, suits the nostalgic and slightly sullen mood.
The work is about Coventry - and if one knows the idealistic, would-be Swedish relationships between housing and landscape of the Tile Hill estate, they are recognisable - but it has a universal quality. Perhaps like Cookham for Stanley Spencer, Coventry will always be a necessary reference point for Shaw. For a city which is struggling to rediscover its identity, such an artist has much to offer.
Alan Powers is an architectural historian