Just a few months after George’s solo show at the Baltic, he was back there again. ‘The Sly and Unseen Day’ had earned him a Turner Prize nomination, and the Turner Prize Exhibition, 2011, was to be held at the Baltic - away from London for only the second time in its history.

So what to show? Obviously, Shaw would have liked to have shown new work, since the art-going public of the North-East was now familiar with his
ouevre. But with the nomination being announced in May (when Sly and Unseen was in full flow) and the Turner Prize exhibition scheduled to open in October, that only gave the artist five months to come up with the goods.

His solution was to present a room-full of similar-sized paintings - the size that he’d first employed in the ‘Baz, Gaz, Shaz, Daz’ show at Void - with half of the paintings being new, painted over the summer. What did George do that summer? He worked his arse off in the studio. So that when Adrian Searle stepped into George’s room at the Baltic, he wouldn’t be able to say he’d seen it all before and, what’s more, he’d seen it all before in this very building!


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Still from Turner Prize, 2011, Guardian Culture Shots

Eight paintings. Four new and four about a year old. Pride of place went to The Age of Bullshit, even though it had been shown at Void and at Sly and Unseen. That is, it was given a wall to itself. (That’s it on the left of the above pic and in the middle of the one below.) I suppose it had come to stand for all that George had lost in the last few years. His father, principally, but buildings he’d been long familiar with as well.

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Photo by Scott Heppell

Below is another still from the video made to accompany Adrian Searle’s review. It shows four of the eight paintings in the show. I read somewhere that each of the paintings was the size of the telly in the Shaw household, perhaps during the 80s. I’m not sure that’s very convincing. Though in a moment of boredom the artist may have tossed that out as a point of reference in an interview. From left to right, BBC1, BBC2, ITV and Channel 4? I don’t think so.

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Still from Turner Prize, 2011, Guardian Culture Shots

Below is a reproduction of one of the paintings not previously exhibited, The New Houses. As with many 2009-2011 paintings by George Shaw, there is a barrier across the painting at right angles to the viewer’s gaze. But in this case the barrier is transparent so the eye can bash straight through. To observe what? An ocean of mud. Thank-you George. As for the houses in the background, the steel railing in the foreground seems to press downwards on them. It seems more likely that these houses in the background will disappear into the mud than new houses in the foreground will rise from it.

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George Shaw. The New Houses, 2011: Humbrol enamel on board. 56x74.5cm

The next painting is so viewer-unfriendly that no-one has bothered to take a picture of it for publicity purposes. I know, I’ve trawled the web. So this view of it, with Adrian Searle’s haircut providing an echo of its horizon, is the best I’ve been able to come up with. I read somewhere that The Same Old Crap shows a great pile of plastic bags. A great pile of plastic bags at a dump as day gives way to night? I look forward to renewing my engagement with this picture when I can see it properly.

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Still from Turner Prize, 2011, Guardian Culture Shots

A video was also shot by the Telegraph. It, together with the Guardian video, gives just enough visual clues for one to work out the layout of the show. But the Turner Prize Exhibition room is not Tile Hill, so should I bother to provide a map? Yes, why not.

The following diagram may not be up to Google standards, but it has highlighted the four new paintings in pink, for ease of reference. In the first photo/still on this page, Adrian Searle enters through the door bottom right, between
The Assumption and The Age of Bullshit. In the third photo/still, the three woman are tending towards the top right corner of my diagram. It should be said that those were just a few of the 150,000 people who visited the show between its October opening and it’s closing on January 8th, 2012. So the obvious effort George put into the set-up wasn’t in vain.

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©2013 Duncan McLaren

I presume the artist was counted amongst the 150,000. Cos he was there all right. In the still below, he stands beside Resurface, talking about the painting.

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Still from Turner Prize, 2011, Telegraph.co.uk/video

He tells us that it’s a view of some garages behind the local shops. Nothing has ever happened there. That’s part of the point, he says. Nothing ever will happen there. Correction, the road was resurfaced and re-marked with yellow lines and the words ‘NO PARKING’ . George reckoned it presented an opportunity to create a painting featuring the word ‘NO’.

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George Shaw. Resurface, 2011: Humbrol enamel on board. 56x74.5cm

With this ‘behind the shops’ clue, I soon located the site of this painting (red tack in the aerial shot below). And in the process of using Street View, I stumbled on the site of another of the paintings in the show, Shut Up (yellow tack). The map below shows where we are in Tile Hill, just to the north of Limbrick Wood. I’ve not been able to resist marking in certain other key locations along Jardine Crescent. From top left, the green tree represents Ash Wednesday 7am, the cocktail glass indicates The Black Prince, the purple camera is where Ten Shilling Wood is seen from and the question mark pinpoints Evening. The last three are Scenes from the Passion. Although Scenes from the Passion is an umbrella term that George stopped using in about 2005, it still hits the spot as far as I’m concerned.

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Imagery ©2013 DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, Getmapping plc, Infoterra Ltd & Bluesky, The Geoinformation Group, , Map data ©2013 Google

Limbrick Wood is very close to the local shops. The aerial perspective below gives the impression that you could do your shopping then dive into the jungle. However, it doesn’t look that way when one gets down to street level.

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Imagery ©2013 DigitalGlobe, GeoEye, Getmapping plc, Infoterra Ltd & Bluesky, The Geoinformation Group, , Map data ©2013 Google

Below is the painting Shut Up. It’s a painting of a shop with its shutters down. The straight-on view gives it a calm feel and a modernist look. After all, the painting is entirely made up of straight lines and rectangles.

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George Shaw. Shut Up, 2011: Humbrol enamel on board. 56x74.5cm

Yet the site itself is bustling and messy. The Google camera shows a woman passing by the shut up shop (at least I think it’s the right one) on a motorised scooter. While a man looks at clothes and furniture outside the next retail unit. When George first saw my photo esaays he remarked that at last he’d got the answer to the question he was most asked after giving a talk about his work: “Why are there no people in your paintings?” The majority of the Google Street Level photos suggest the answer is: “Because there are no people”. This one may be the exception that proves the rule.

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©2013 Google

As you can see from the last aerial view, if one walks a little further one comes to the site of Resurface. Any differences between the Google shot below and the artist’s painting (again a modernist motif)? Only the season. As ever, George has based his painting on a snap taken in the winter months. No leaves on the trees. No sap rising. No future. Why do I say that? I suppose because I’ve still got The Age of Bullshit on my mind. I suppose because I’m still mulling over New Houses and The Same Old Crap. The latter picture is one I really feel the need to study.

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©2013 Google

During the Turner Prize show, George manages to set aside the bleakness of his latter-day vision in order to support a project with local schools. A video shows two boys reading The Sly and Unseen Day at Baltic’s library. In their classroom, they try their hand at coming up with a George Shaw landscape using Humbrol paints. They work together on the same painting, which is cute. They’re not sure they can do as well as George, but they can try. I spot tins of colours that are not part of George’s palette, but I guess that’s all right in the circumstances. Carry on, lads!

Later, one of the boys is shown talking to big, friendly George on a sofa. The child asks George why he uses the paints he does and this elicits a revealing answer. George tells the boy that when he was a child he used to watch his father making and painting models (aeroplanes, I guess) on the kitchen table. Then when he was about 30, he opened a tin of Humbrol paints and the smell of it took him back to those times in the kitchen at home with his father. George’s ‘madeleine’ moment, you might say.

The boy’s second question is that old chestnut: “Why are there no people in your paintings?’ George answers: “If I’m honest - and I’m not normally honest - it’s because people are difficult to paint and it’s easier to leave them out.” Actually, George is a superb drawer of the human figure. Despite his protestations, it seems that his day’s ration of honesty all went into answering the first question. Well, no, he rounds off his answer to the second question by saying that there’s always one person in the painting, and that’s the viewer.

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Still from ‘George Shaw interviewed by young people’ Turner Prize, 2011, Baltic, Culture Street Fiulms, artisancam.co.uk

I’m not sure that The Same Old Crap is suitable viewing for a child. I’m relieved that it’s another painting that the boy ends up looking at with the artist. The painting, another of the new ones, is called The Devil Made Me Do It. The boy says that looking at it makes him wonder what happened before the painter came along...

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George Shaw. The Devil Made Me Do It, 2011: Humbrol enamel on board. 56x74.5cm

George is impressed. Wondering what had happened was exactly what went through his mind when he was in the woods and first saw the burnt out tree. He wondered if the tree had spontaneously caught fire. Or had someone set it alight in order to keep warm? Or had boredom been the motive?

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Still from ‘George Shaw interviewed by young people’ Turner Prize, 2011, Baltic, Culture Street Fiulms, artisancam.co.uk

George admits that when he was younger he might have done something like that. And when he was asked as a child why he’d done some such destructive act, the only thing he could come up with was ‘The Devil made me do it’. Hence the name of the painting. The video ends with George admitting that he did another similar painting shortly after this one which was called The Devil Made Me Do It Again.

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Still from ‘George Shaw interviewed by young people’ Turner Prize, 2011, Baltic, Culture Street Fiulms, artisancam.co.uk

The video ends at that point, with George laughing at his own irony. The boy may be laughing as well, after all George has made a genuine effort to communicate with him. But the child is not in shot so I can’t say for sure.

The Devil Made Me Do It... The Same Old Crap... The Devil Made me Do It Again... The Same Old Crap. Yes, I really need to take a good look at that particular painting.





Acknowledgement: The images of George Shaw’s works on this site are copyright the artist. Many of them appear courtesy of Wilkinson Gallery, photography by Peter White.