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Review | George Shaw: A Corner of a Foreign Field

Review | George Shaw: A Corner of a Foreign Field

Review | George Shaw: A Corner of a Foreign Field

Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel Street, New Haven

https://britishart.yale.edu/

Through December 30, 2018

George Shaw,  Scenes from The Passion: No. 57 , 1996, Humbrol enamel on board, Royal College of Art, London, courtesy of the artist and the Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, London, © George Shaw 2018

George Shaw, Scenes from The Passion: No. 57, 1996, Humbrol enamel on board, Royal College of Art, London, courtesy of the artist and the Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, London, © George Shaw 2018

In a video interview with the British filmmaker Jonathan Law, George Shaw (b. 1966, Coventry, England) states, “If you put me in an empty room with paints, I’d paint an empty room.” The artist recreates what he sees, and the exhibition, George Shaw: A Corner of a Foreign Field, at the Yale Center for British Art highlights over thirty years of the artist’s stark practice of looking deeply at the mundane.

The exhibition opens with a petite painting of Shaw’s neighborhood, Scenes from The Passion: No. 57 (1996). To the left of this painting on the opposite wall is a painting of the same subject matter from 2018 called Mum’s House. Between these bookends, the exhibition contains nearly seventy of Shaw’s lush enamel paintings, as well as numerous drawings, prints, and some less successful, more contemporary mixed media works. The works are thematically arranged. Rooms are devoted to different series such as The Woodsman, a group of four large charcoal drawings of the forest. Shaw worked on this series after the death of his father in 2006, and the drawings show abundant tangles of decay and regrowth. These drawings are large, technically impressive, yet a bit boring.

George Shaw,  Mum’s , 2018, Humbrol enamel on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Friends of British Art Fund, courtesy of the artist and the Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, London, © George Shaw 2018

George Shaw, Mum’s, 2018, Humbrol enamel on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Friends of British Art Fund, courtesy of the artist and the Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, London, © George Shaw 2018

Where Shaw shines is through his use of color. As a painter, his enamel surfaces becomes most alluring when Shaw’s colors have the right combination of subtlety and strange. Ash Wednesday: 7.00am (2004–5) is anything but vibrant at first glance, but a small band of warm, orange brick enlivens the grayness of the early morning vista. This scene, like most of the works included in the show, is from Shaw’s childhood neighborhood, Tile Hill. Shaw started to feel sentimental about these suburbs at the precise moment they started to decay. Shaw was in his thirties, a time the artist might have started witnessing similar same signs of aging within himself.

George Shaw,  Ash Wednesday: 7.00am , 2004–5, Humbrol enamel on board, Private Collection, courtesy of the artist and the Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, London, © George Shaw 2018

George Shaw, Ash Wednesday: 7.00am, 2004–5, Humbrol enamel on board, Private Collection, courtesy of the artist and the Anthony Wilkinson Gallery, London, © George Shaw 2018

Many of the most enticing paintings in the show have crumbling facades or structures. Scenes from the Passion: The Hawthorne Tree (2001) is hung next to a newer painting of the same building called The Age of Bullshit (2010). The palette of the latter painting is lighter, imbuing the details of the painting—exposed rebar, barren winter trees—with greater vulnerability. A parking lot in the foreground is empty and the concrete looks torn apart and cracked. These two paintings track the disrepair of the near decade between them.

Another recurring theme throughout the show is Shaw’s use of borders or fences. Several paintings highlight various means that are meant to keep people separated or demarcate different properties. The paintings are rife with blockages, as Shaw seemed to be reckoning his relationship with his childhood. The Painted Wall (2017) contains the trace of a goal post that has been painted on a prominent brick wall close to the viewer. The composition of the painting is frontal with a bland, white building squarely placed behind the wall. The banality of the subject matter seems to have some of Shaw’s humor embedded inside this ordinary picture.

In a similar vein, The Visitor (2017) has the shadow of Shaw extends from the bottom edge of the painting. Were this scene with this awkward looming shadow a photograph, it would be a failure, but Shaw’s expert paint handling defies conventional expectations—bad imagery makes for his wittiest paintings.

George Shaw,  The Visitor,  2017 ,  Humbrol enamel on canvas. Private Collection. © George Shaw.

George Shaw, The Visitor, 2017, Humbrol enamel on canvas. Private Collection. © George Shaw.

George Shaw: A Corner of a Foreign Field continues through December 30, 2018 at the Yale Center for British Art.

Studio Visit | Megan Craig

Studio Visit | Megan Craig

Review | False Flag: The Space Between Paranoia and Reason

Review | False Flag: The Space Between Paranoia and Reason