THE LOST OF ENGLAND:

EMPIRE OF SHITE




This painting doesn't have quite the look of a typical Tile Hill scene from the hand of George Shaw.

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George Shaw. Empire of Shite, 2017. Enamel on canvas 92 x 121cm

That's partly because it's based on the series of paintings by Magritte called 'The Empire of Light'.

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Rene Magritte. La Maison de Reves, 1953. Oil on canvas.

The Magritte shows a daylight sky above a building lit artificially. The sky in Shaw's painting doesn't actually look like broad daylight. Though it may have done while it was being painted, as the following shot of it in Shaw's studio in the summer of 2017 suggests.

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Photo by George Shaw, 2017

I include the above - which shows many of the paintings in 'The Lost of England' series, some finished and others in-progress - because the reproduction I have of Empire of Shite is a small file and may not do justice to the original painting. Indeed, the picture looks more like it was painted with Humbrol enamel than any other painting I can think of by George Shaw, with less evidence of Shaw's masterful handling of paint than is customary. What am I saying? This will have been just as skilfully painted, it's just that a different effect is being attempted. The blue of the sky and the orange of the light spilling out of the doorways is as bold an example of complementary colours as one could expect from a Van Gogh painted in Arles.

I presumed from the title and the double entrance that the picture must be of a public toilet. There isn't any such thing in Tile Hill these days, but the archive of Google camera reveals that there was one. The following shot is from 2008.


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It's usual for Shaw to leave out signage in his paintings. To give them a more timeless and less specific feel. Below is a shot from 2012. 'Public Lavatory' it says. And this clearly is the building that Shaw has commemorated. It used to cater for ladies and gents and did so 24/7, so the open night and day suggestion of the painting's lighting seems apt.

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Another of the paintings of 'The Lost of England', is called Oldey Worldy, and is a view of the back of this building. Another tribute to the dearly departed.

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George Shaw. Oldey Worldy, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 46 x 55cm

I guess everyone in Tile Hill would have memories of this humble little brick building that catered for such a basic human need. Below is the pick of the photos from the Google archive at this spot of Jardine Crescent.

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Let me zoom in…

Ah, yes, the empire of light.

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It puts me in mind of the 1979 Tarkovsky film, Stalker. Where the eponymous stalker leads a scientist and a writer into the Zone. It's a mysterious and post-apocalyptic place, and they must proceed with great care through the wilderness, along polluted streams and across weird fields. Eventually they get to a cave, a special place, which contains a shallow pool of shimmering water, where light and shadows play amid the drips and drops. Achingly beautiful. It's a place where the writer and scientist have gone to get their deepest wish granted. But that depends on them bringing with them sincerity. In other words, what they think they want might not be what they actually crave.

Writer: "My deepest wish is to have my bladder emptied."

Cave: "Go to it, my son. Amidst the shining, white tiles and the clear, running water."

But that photograph, from September 2015, is the last in the archive. The next, from July 2016, shows the toilet to have joined such buildings as Tile Hill Social Club and the Massey Ferguson Tower. Demolished. And all trace removed.

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The site of another demolished building is just a little further along Jardine Crescent. The pub, where George Shaw's mother worked and his father had the odd drink, was long called The New Star, but was renamed the Woodsman prior to being badly damaged by a fire in 2002. It was demolished in 2005, and no new building has risen from the ashes. The aerial view shows the large brown site of the ex-pub (top of the image) and the smaller brown site of the ex-public toilet (centre).

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Can't have a pint at the Woodsman. Can't have a piss in the centre of town. What is Tile Hill coming to?

However, what local politicians have taken away (presumably they closed the toilet), national politicians can put back. Step forward Nigel and Boris.

They walk to where the public lavatory once stood, examining the bare, dusty ground with the toes of their polished leather shoes.

Nigel is first to speak: "I wonder which EU regulation the poor building fell foul of."

"Brussels might have insisted it come down because of the use of that fine word 'lava-TORY' rather than the socialist 'TOIL-et'.

"Or because the cisterns weren't installed with the two-flush option that saves water."

"Or because the hand dryers were deemed a cause of global warming."

"Or because the site is not within two-hundred yards of a toilet roll factory."

"Bonkers!"

"Brussels
is bonkers, Boris. Everyone in Britain knows that, and the sensible people, the majority, voted accordingly in 2016."

"What are we going to do about it?"

"Let's get the EU to rebuild the facility prior to our leaving at the end of October."

Nigel: "
What do we want?"

Boris:
"Our midnight shit."

Nigel: "
When do we want it?"

Boris: "Now."

It's a quiet spot for pedestrians, but there are some. And a stream of cars pass by in both directions.

Nigel: "
What do we want?"

Boris:
"Dawn diarrhoea."

Nigel: "When do we want it?"

Boris: "
Now."

Nigel: "What do we want?"

Boris:
"Our daily stool."

Nigel: "When do we want it?"

Boris: "
Now."

After few minutes, they desist. But they continue to stand there in their Saville Row suits, hands behind their backs, in a mood of reverie. Like Gilbert and George, or Morecambe and Wise.

"Shall we try the poster?" Asks Nigel. They roll it out, Boris holding one side, Nigel the other.

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Boris: "Funny how since Brexit began, the letters L and R now stand for leave and remain. So that if - WHEN - we get this loo reinstated, the two doors won't be thought of as left or right, or ladies and gents, but leave and remain."

Nigel: "In that case, would you mind swopping sides?"

"Boris: "Actually, can you hold it on your own for a second, I've got to have a pee."

Nigel: "How do you know that that tree is a leaver?"

Boris. "It's a remainer. That's why I'm pissing on it… Actually, I can't seem to go. Would you mind helping me out with a tune?"

Nigel:
"What do we want?…Our midnight piss…When do we want it?…Now… What do we want?…Our morning release…When do we want it?…Now… What do we want?…An empty bladder…When do we want it?…Now."

A minute later, Boris sidles back to Nigel. The poster lies forgotten on the ground. Something has flipped. Day has turned into night. Ebullience into resignation.

Nigel: "Why don't we hang ourselves?"

Boris: "With what?"

Nigel: "You haven't got a bit of rope?"

Boris: "No."

Nigel: "Then we can't."

Boris: "Let's go."

Nigel: "Wait. There's my belt."

Boris: "It's too short."

Nigel: "You could always hang onto my legs."

Boris: "And who'd hang on to mine?"

Nigel: "Ah, true."

Boris: "Show all the same."

Nigel takes off his belt.

Boris: "Might do at a pinch. But is it strong enough?"

Nigel: "We'll soon see."

They pull the belt. It breaks.

Boris: "Not worth a curse."

Nigel's trousers fall down.

Nigel: "You say we have to come back tomorrow."

Boris: "Yes."

Nigel: "Then remind me to bring a good bit of rope."

Boris: "Yes."

Nigel: "Boris."

Boris: "Yes."

Nigel: "I can't go on like this."

Boris: "That's what you think."

Nigel: "If we parted. It might be better for us."

Boris: "We'll hang ourselves tomorrow… Unless Brexit comes."

Nigel: "And if it comes?"

Boris: "We'll be saved."

Nigel: "Well, shall we go."

Boris: "Pull on your trousers."

Nigel: "What?"

Boris: "Pull on your trousers."

Nigel: "You want me to pull off my trousers?"

Boris: "Pull
ON your trousers."

Nigel: "Oh, yes!"

Nigel pulls on his trousers.

Boris: "Well? Shall we go?"

Nigel: "Yes. Let's go."

They do not move.



'The Lost of England' will be continued soon. I don't want to rush this. It's only the second of August and so much can happen between now and the end of October.



Acknowledgements The images of George Shaw’s works on this site are copyright the artist. The artist is represented by Anthony Wilkinson.

'The Lost of England' was an exhibition of George Shaw paintings at Maruani Mercier in autumn, 2017.

Thanks to Rik Rawling for plugging a few gaps in my primary source material.