Every two years an artist is selected to complete a two year stint at the National Gallery. You can only imagine the overwhelming grandeur of working in such a place. Surrounded by the scale of monumental historical art. Centuries of paintings at your side.
So how interesting that former Turner Prize nominee, George Shaw, known for his suburban, idiosyncratic style of painting would be chosen to undergo such a feat.
Well its certainly shown up the tradition of landscape painting and turned it on its head.
In ‘My Back to Nature’ Shaw has provided a down-to-earth, grime-inspired, mess of a woodland series of paintings that hark back to his times of wandering around the nearby forests of his homeland in Coventry. Yes, that means beer cans strewn over the ground, trees having been treated to graffiti art, torn-up flesh-ridden porno magazines, a used mattress dumped in the overgrowth, tarpaulin sheets left strewn across tree branches. There are sumptuous undertones of seediness hinting at the dark and depressing. Where man can’t be bothered and has left its mark in the most useless way possible.
Overall Shaw has instilled a muted palette. His tree studies titled ‘You’ve Changed’ are nine small paintings of broken or bent tree stumps. But by using enamel paint his paintings glisten and glow with the subtle changes of light giving these dank scenes a special quality of lusciousness. The distinct red of the graffiti, the purposeful blue of the tarpaulin sheet, the haunting green of the overgrowth have all been given a makeover by the palatial finish of model aeroplane paint.
His out-of-focus backgrounds keep your eye on the prize… the mess, the disorder, the sleaze. In ‘The Call of Nature’ how can you remove your gaze from the picture of a man relieving himself against a tree. You can’t. It’s just too mesmerising. Shaw has undermined the romantic ideology of the landscape through his deft un-compliance with traditional historical painting. His focus remains on the forgotten realms of neglected landscapes. Where nature has been tarnished. However Shaw’s painting skill conveys a fresh look at the beauty of this kind of landscape that we try so much to overlook.
Once again I wasn’t allowed to take photographs in the exhibition. I even got into a heated discussion with one of the security invigilators when I attempted to take a photo of the exhibition’s written introduction to George Shaw’s work. Say no more ;)-
On until 30th October
‘My Back to Nature’
The National Gallery