Mark Hallett tells us in his Yale catalogue essay that the first painting to be
completed by George Shaw for his Brussels show was The Man Who Would Be King. Although it's one of the smaller paintings (all the paintings are one of two sizes), it's one that was used in publicity.

George Shaw. The Man Who Would Be King, 2017. Enamel on canvas 46 x 55cm

Hallett writes: 'In the catalogue to the Brussels show, the critic Ben Luke reports Shaw discussing the latter painting (are you following this trail from McLaren via Hallett via Luke to Shaw?) in terms of the mismatch it highlighted between the pictured building's newly primped exterior and the poverty of the circumstances that continued to be found within its walls: 'I found this quite sad, that the whole of the outside of the building had been re-clad and made to look really good, but inside were the same difficult lives being led.'

Shaw was also in communication with David Allan Mellor, who provides an essay in the Yale catalogue. Mellor writers:
'The mordant spectacle which Shaw makes from that flag is satiric, draws from Rudyard Kipling's critique of over-weening imperial fantasy found in one of his short stories, 'The Man Who Would Be King' (1888). Shaw told Mellor that 'when I finally gave in to making the painting of the English flag hanging in the window I just knew that its title was going to be The Man Who Would Be King'. Shaw was drawing on the memory of watching the 1976 film of the same name, a version of the Kipling story starring Sean Connery and Michael Caine playing, as Mellor puts it: 'two British army chancers who, establish a doomed dominion over a tiny border state in the Hindu Kush, at the end of the nineteenth century.'

Mellor then quotes from Shaw's letter:
'The limp flag in the window summed up so much of the arrogant ill-fated pursuit of glory and romance that I remembered from the film… I see it and hear it in the pissed-up and pissed-off patriots of every class and political persuasion.'

Mellor tells us that Shaw went on to describe the scene he imagined behind the flag. Shaw
'could see in the dim interior the severed and crowned head of the tenant on the kitchen table and the accompanying whiff of desperation, disappointment and inevitability.'

With the artist and previous commentators having said so much, so relevantly and so astutely, it might seem that there is little more to be written. But I'll have a go…

This flat is in the block right next to the block of flats that is the site of
The Painted Wall. In my essay on that painting, I identify four sites of similar flat-topped four-floored housing in Tile Hill. I'm now going to show one image from each of the other three sites.


No wonder Shaw uses the line 'when I finally gave in to making the painting of the English flag hanging in the window'. Impossible to walk the streets of Tile Hill without being aware of this motif.

Returning (below) to the actual site of The Man Who Would Be King, it's interesting to look at Google's archive of images. How the building has indeed been primped in between the taking of a photo in November, 2012 and September 2015. I suspect the European Union wasn't given the credit for funding the revamp of the building. At least not by whoever lives in a particular ground floor flat.


Though I'm bit confused now as to the status of this housing. Because I came across a couple of flats for sale on Zoopla at Rosemary Close (the 9-block site) and Pepys Corner, I assumed the blocks were privately owned. But does this paint job not suggest council ownership? I dare say the situation will become clear as I carry on with this exercise.

OK, this is where I take my investigation of the painting into another register. Bear with me as we get up close and topical. It's Tuesday, July 23, 2019, as I write, and in an hour or so an announcement will be made as to who will be the new Prime Minister. In preparation for this announcement I've been listening again to an interview Boris Johnson did earlier this month for Talk Radio.


"What do you do to relax? What do you do to switch off?"

"Ah…. I….I… I like to… paint…ammm…oh, I make things… I like to…"

"What sort of things do you make?"

"I make….. I have a thing where I make models of… Ah… when I was… when I was Lord Mayor of London I’d make a beautiful… I make buses."

"You make models of buses?"

"I make models of buses. No I don’t make models of buses…what I make is… I get… old…umm…. I don’t know… wooden crates."


"Right…And then I paint them… And they have two…two… Suppose, suppose it’s a box that’s been made to contain two bottles of wine…Two wine bottles, right?"


"And it will have a…a…a… dividing thing… and I turn it into a bus. And I… I put passengers… (You really want to know this?)"

"You’re making buses. You’re making cardboard buses. All right that’s what you do to enjoy yourself."

"No, and I paint…I paint… I paint the passengers… enjoying themselves… on the wonderful bus."

I think he gave that interview a day or so after the commotion at his partner's London flat, a shouting match which was reported to the police. Anyway, he was clearly not at his best during the interview. His usual articulacy was out of reach for him that day. Perhaps he's feeling better now he's out of the public eye, holed up in a Tile Hill flat.

George Shaw. The Man Who Would Be King, 2017. Enamel on canvas 46 x 55cm (Detail.)

I hear a phone ringing. Call coming in for Boris? Luckily he's got his phone on speaker and a window suddenly opens, so I can hear what's being said.


"How is the man who would be King?"

"Still holed up in my Coventry digs until the party vote is OVER. I must say I can't wait to be made PM. I'm stuck inside. What's the weather like?"

"I'm in Brussels, Boris."

"Well, what's the weather like there?"


"Damn. I have to stay IN. I have to stay IN-COG-NITO until the vote, so as not to bugger things up. You should see what I've got hanging on the wall, Nigel. You'd love it."

"That 'Farage in Prison' nonsense?"

"No, no. Been there, done that. Let me describe it to you.

"Ah…. I….I… I like to… paint…ammm…oh, I make things… I like to…"

"I'm listening, Boris."

"Hang on, I'm just going to send you… Much easier than trying to explain… Have you got it?"


"Yes, very nice. Have you been working on your acceptance speech?"

"Doing that now. Would you like to hear a bit? Strictly between ourselves until tomorrow"


"OK, here goes… Are you still there, Nigel?"


"I know that some wag has already pointed out that Deliver, Unite and Defeat was not the perfect acronym for an election campaign, since unfortunately it spells DUD - but they forgot the final 'E' my friends, 'E' for energise.

"And I say to all the doubters, DUDE, we are going to energise the country.

"We are going to get Brexit done on October 31.

"We are going to take advantage of all the opportunities that it will bring in a new spirit of CAN-DO.

"And we are once again going to believe in ourselves and what we can achieve.

"And like some slumbering giant, we are going to rise and PING OFF the guy ropes of self-doubt and negativity, with better education, better infrastructure, more police, fantastic full-fibre broadband sprouting in every household - we are going to unite this AMAZING country and we are going to take it forward.

"I thank you all very much for the incredible honour that you have just done me.

"I will work flat out from now on with my team - that I will build, I hope in the next few days - to repay your confidence, but in the meantime the campaign is over and the work begins.

"Thank you all very much.

"How does that sound, Nigel?"

"Are you going to carry on making buses in your spare time?"

"Yes…. No, no, no…. I'm making flags now. Sheets and red paint is basically all you need. The same paint that I use for buses."

"Do you want me to fly over and see you?"

"Yes, today! There's something I must show you just round the corner. And if you have any trouble getting a plane at such short notice from Brussels, just tell them that the king has sent for you."

"The king?"

"The king of England, pillock. God, Nigel, you are
not a visual person."

'The Lost of England' is continued here.

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. The Ben Luke essay referred to is in George Shaw: The Lost of England, a catalogue published by Maruani Mercier.