In 2004, George Shaw was offered a commission by Vital Arts to paint pictures for St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. The West Wing had been refurbished to house a state-of-the-art Breast Care Centre. Seven artists were commissioned to add to the environment. The Vital Arts website tells us:

‘Theresa Bergne of Field Art Projects curated the project for Vital Arts, consulting with staff and patients to develop a brief and enabling the artists to understand the context of the Breast Care Centre. Of the many elements revealed by the research, a common thread emerged; that people using the building wanted to be anywhere but here. To this end the expression of landscape, used as a starting point for the art installed, offers an element of transportation, perhaps enabling viewers to think about being somewhere else if only in the mind.’

If the research suggested that the women would rather be in a council estate in the Midlands, they got their wish. But I shouldn’t be facetious. George Shaw’s paintings of his home are surely just right for this context. Here is an example of what Shaw painted for the commission. A view of the precious house he was raised in, yellow daffodils leading the eye to the front door:

George Shaw, from the ‘Home’ series, 2004: Humbrol enamel on board. 24x31cm

In the back garden it’s roses that are in bloom. Which I suppose means that the artist based this set of paintings on photographs taken at different times of the year, perhaps even in different years. But in any case, photographs that could be turned into paintings full of a lace-curtain privacy and suburban homeliness.

George Shaw, From the ‘Home’ series, 2004: Humbrol enamel on board. 24x31cm

Of the ten paintings in the series, six are interiors. But see, below, how the pink roses have followed Shaw inside the house in the form of the wallpaper pattern. See too that there is a more sombre, autumnal feeling to the carpet in the hall. Yes, the Forest of Arden has also followed George inside number 57. I don’t think the individual paintings in the series have got titles, certainly they don’t on the BBC ‘Your Paintings’ site that these images were taken from. The painting below could, I like to suppose, be called The Path In.

George Shaw. From the ‘Home’ series, 2004: Humbrol enamel on board. 24x31cm

The paintings don’t show anything too personal. Shaw bedrooms and the Shaw living room are avoided altogether. I suppose the paintings provide a more general invitation to the viewer. What we have at our disposal are open doors and corridors full of post-War hope.

The Vital Arts website tells us where Shaw’s paintings were (and are) hung at the Breast Care Centre of Barts Hospital:

The consultants' rooms are situated in large curved timber pods set within the structure of the building, away from the external walls. This creates an airy walkway around the room where patients can sit in window seats overlooking the courtyard to await their appointment. In each of the window niches a painting shows a scene of quiet domesticity: a staircase with original swirly carpet, a kitchen sink or a front doorstep. Painted in rich Humbrol enamels, the small object paintings are engaging and evocative, enhancing the calm intimacy of the space they inhabit.’

In other words, you can stand looking out of the window of the hospital, thinking of where you’d like to be. Or you can sit on the window seat and turn your head to look at a painting by George Shaw of the place
he might think of if he were in hospital.

010george shaw
George Shaw, Home, 2005. Photographed by Phil Sayer

Looking out of the window...

“Winter coming
Winter push on
(push on)
Oh, winter push on

Winter is so long
Winter moves on...”

I’ll explain the above lines further down this page. The painting directly below is not part of the ‘Home’ series. Google has confirmed that it’s the view from George’s bedroom in the house he grew up in. I figured it might be, because the view-point is from well-above ground level.

George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion, First day of the year, 2003: Humbrol enamel on board. 44x53cm

As you can see from the photo below, the Google view of the same scene is from street level, from where the composition is messier. Returning to the view from George’s bedroom, one begins to get into it. A pellucid sky... Some reassuring horizontals... Plenty of upward pointing spire-substitutes - gable ends and chimney pots. Plus the aspirational telephone pole. Perhaps it was the fortuitous location of this pole that inspired George through his early interest in art, and which meant that he would never settle for less than a full-blooded long-term project: ‘set the controls for the heart of the sun!’.

Screen shot 2012-12-16 at 18.59.23
©2013 Google

Actually, George can see the sun in the east quite well from his front garden, or from the pavement in front of his house - roughly where the Google camera took the above picture from. The image below is called Blossomiest Blossom after the quote by Dennis Potter. Or at least I think that’s the reference, even though Google confirms my hunch that it was the ‘blossomingest blossom’; that Potter said he could see from his bedroom window when he was dying. But that’s fine. The living Shaw and the dying Potter are both enjoying the plum/apple/cherry blossom while they still can:

George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: Blossomiest Bloosom, 2001: Humbrol enamel on board. 43x53cm

The painting below, The Very Sad Tree, is from 2004. I thought it might be a tribute to Dennis Potter, champion of a left-wing, working class sensibility. Then I thought the 2001 painting - above - was more likely to be a tribute, as the blossom quote was made just a month or so before the writer’s death. At this point I looked up Dennis Potter on Wikipedia and discovered that he died back in 1994. Dennis Potter has been dead for nearly twenty years! Worse, The Singing Detective, was made nearly thirty years ago!

‘Time, he flexes like a whore,
Falls wanking to the floor,’

As David Bowie sang, while I lay on the carpet in my suburban house listening to
Aladdin Sane, on the record player. Forty years ago...

George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion: The very sad tree, 2004: Humbrol enamel on board. 43x53cm

But let’s get back to the ‘Home’ series. I want to introduce a bit of Morrissey at this point. Why? I’d like to answer that by quoting a few sentences from ‘Reconsidering Rock’, a feature I wrote for Contemporary, in November 2002. To be honest, I don’t recall the conversation that I refer to in what follows, so I’m so glad I wrote it down. It may have been the afternoon interview with George Shaw of summer 1999. More likely it was when we bumped into each other at an opening in the next year or so, and enjoyed a brief exchange of views. Anyway, in the piece I write:

‘I recall telling Shaw how Bowie singing ‘Starman’ on Top of the Pops in 1972 had blown my mind because it had introduced me to new ideas and aesthetics. For a start, Bowie so obviously loved himself! Shaw replied that for him it had been Morrissey, a decade later, who had shown him that there could be more to life - and to self-esteem - than was on offer from the violent playground and the sterile classroom.’

Actually, I’ve already mentioned Morrissey on this page, as the ‘winter’ lines quoted above are the spoken intro to his ‘Late Night, Maudlin Street’, a favourite track of George Shaw’s, as it happens. It’s the longest song on
Viva Hate, which came out in 1988, just a couple of years after George had stopped living at number 57. You might want to listen to it as you read, in which case try this.

“The last night on Maudlin Street
Goodbye house, goodbye stairs
I was born here
And I was raised here
And I took some stick here.”

George Shaw. From the ‘Home’ series, 2004: Humbrol enamel on board. 24x31cm

Took some stick here? How could it not be so - four Shaw children raised in a relatively small house. Two boys sharing a bedroom. The parents would have needed rules to keep discipline in the house. And George Shaw, being a wild child, would have broken those rules.

George senior: “I’m asking you not to dive through the hedge, George. First, it means you’re invading someone else’s back garden. Second, it sets a bad example to your brother. Third, you’ll fall in with the rude mechanicals who make up that
Midsummer Night’s Dream crowd.

Screen shot 2013-02-06 at 16.24.38
Still from ‘I Woz Ere’, 2011, a film by Jim Turner for Herbert Media.

But I must remember: this is Morrissey’s song, not Shaw’s. I may be juxtaposing creamily nostalgic painting/photo with deliciously nostalgic song, but I mustn’t push the comparisons. Go, Morrissey, accompanied by jangling, slapping and swooping instrumentation:

“Love at first sight
It may sound trite
But it's true, you know
I could list the detail
Of everything you ever wore or said
Or how you stood that day
As we spent the last night
On Maudlin street
“Goodbye house, forever!"
I never stole a happy hour
Around here.

Screen shot 2013-02-06 at 16.25.26
Still from I Woz Ere, 2011, a film by Jim Turner for Herbert Media.

George in the back garden at ‘Maudlin Street’. A cute kid. As was Morrissey, so Lord knows what the latter is going on about here:

Where the world's ugliest boy
Became what you see
Here I am - the ugliest man
Oh, the last night on Maudlin street
Truly I do love you
Oh, truly I do love you.”

While at school, the teenage Shaw produced a number of self-portraits. Egon Schiele may have been an influence on these, but so was Morrissey. Below is how the material was presented in the 2012 show ‘I Woz Ere’:

George Shaw. Installation shot from ‘I Woz Ere’, 2011

Typical adolescent posing - rendered with unusual skill. I have paintings of myself looking similar, though rendered with less skill. An idea of the scale of the drawings and paintings above can be got from the publicity photo below, which was taken in 2011 when Shaw was up for the Turner Prize. The portrait that the 45-year-old Shaw is holding of his teenage, Morrissey-lookalikey self can be found towards the top right of the bank of images above:

Studio portrait of George Shaw taken by Jim Wiseman, 2011.

But back to the song:

“When I sleep
With that picture of you framed beside my bed
Oh, it's childish and it's silly
But I think it's you in my room, by the bed
(...yes, I told you it was silly...)”

Studio portrait of George Shaw taken by Jim Wiseman, 2011.

Is the above a photograph of Francis Bacon holding a painting of Morrissey upside down? Perhaps not, but it seems to me that the Francis Bacon Vs Morrissey rivalry is still there. The following could be a quote from Bacon put to music:

“And I know
I took strange pills
But I never meant to hurt you
Oh, oh, truly I love you
Came home late one night
Everyone had gone to bed
But, you know
No-one stays up for you
I had sixteen stitches
All around my head

“Oh, the last bus I missed to Maudlin street
So he drove me home in the van
Complaining, "women only like me for my mind..."

Talking of complaining, I’ve got a complaint. The ‘Home’ series doesn’t let us see into the lounge of the Shaw household. That portrait of DH Lawrence by George’s Uncle Mick - where is it?

However, the Channel 4 documentary,
The Late George Shaw, made in 2004, includes a shot of the painting below, which I take to be George’s parents sitting in the front room of number 57. Actually, I’m glad Uncle Mick’s picture isn’t shown and that the image is indistinct. We’re getting close to the heart of the Shaw household now and some distance needs to be kept. Some secrets should remain out of sight.

Screen shot 2013-02-18 at 18.58.05
© George Shaw

In the Home series, we don’t see into bedrooms either. The artist has wanted to give his viewers - the users of the Breast Care Centre - a reminder of home without distracting them with specifics personal to his own home. Fair enough. So for specifics - in lieu of more snaps from the Shaw family album - it’s back to Morrissey:

“Don’t leave your torch behind
A powercut ahead; 1972, you know
And so we crept through the park
No, I cannot steal a pair of jeans off a clothes line
For you-ou-ou-ou.
But you ... without clothes
Oh, I could not keep a straight face
Me - without clothes ?
Well, a nation turns it's back and gags...
I'm packed.”

George Shaw, from the ‘Home’ series, 2004: Humbrol enamel on board. 24x31cm

George packed in 1984, when he was 18. Off to Sheffield and art college.


“Up north.”

“What? Why? When?”

“I am moving house
A half-life disappears today
With "every hand waves me on"
(secretly wishing me gone)
Well, I will be soon
Ooh, I will be soon
I will be soon
I will be soon
Will be soon, I will be soon
Mmm ... I will be soon, I will be soon.”

George Shaw. From the ‘Home’ series, 2004: Humbrol enamel on board. 24x31cm

“There were bad times on Maudlin street
They took you away in a police car
Inspector - don't you know ?
Don't you care ?
Don't you know - about love ?”

I can’t help thinking of the incident that George told me about when the police knocked on his door and interviewed his father in relation to the sexual assault that had taken place on the patch of grass by the telephone box. I imagine George listening at the top of the stairs, guiltily aware of the pornography stash in the room that he used as a studio and shared as a bedroom with his brother. George thinking: “
Inspector - don’t you know, don’t you care, don’t you know - about love?’

George Shaw. From the ‘Home’ series, 2004: Humbrol enamel on board. 24x31cm

And now to the emotional core of the song:

“Your gran died
And your mother died
On Maudlin street
In pain, and ashamed
With never time to say
Those special thi-i-i-i-i-i-ings !!!!!...”

That’s the killer line. The line that the singer puts everything into. Its relevance to George will be explored in the page called ‘Woodsman’. But for now...

“I took the key from Maudlin street
Well, it's only bricks and mortar!
Oh, oh, truly I love you, oh...

Wherever you are
Wherever you are
Wherever you are
I hope you're singing now
Oh, I do hope
I hope you're singing now
Oh ...”

George Shaw. From the ‘Home’ series, 2004: Humbrol enamel on board. 24x31cm

As this picture is singing? Over to you, George:

“I took the key from Aneurin Drive
Well, it's only paint and hardwood!”

Actually, this image brings to mind something that George wrote somewhere. He mentioned that there were hidden motifs in his work. He then quoted what I’ve since discovered is another Morrissey lyric, from a Smiths’ song:

a stumbling block / I'm a twenty digit combination to unlock / with a past where to be touched / meant to be mental… use your loaf.’

I thought I should try and work out what motif George was alluding to but without much hope that I’d succeed. After all, it took me ten years to link the pointing finger with the finger of God creating Adam.

Anyway, here goes. The song is called ‘I Keep Mine Hidden’. The words contrast the character of the singer, who hides his feelings, with the character of another, whose emotions spill out. But what is the motif? Is George simply acknowledging that his work disguises a lot of the experience and emotions that lie behind it? Or is there something specifically visual he’s flagging up?

Maybe the key phrase is ‘stumbling block’. Because it’s there in the above image in the form of the front doorstep. Moreover, the second painting in the Tile Hill series is this one, which is from where the first painting - of the Shaw street and home - was taken from. A row of steps on the other side of the road from number 57, consisting of three or four stumbling blocks:

George Shaw, Scenes from the Passion, The Steps,1998: Humbrol enamel on board. 44x53cm

I remember stumbling back to my own home after the odd drunken night out in my youth. Following a flight of steps, there was the one final stumbling block that took one over the threshold of 1 Bulbourne Close and into the safety of the home made for me by loving parents.

But, you know, no-one stays up for you. I had sixteen pints all around my head.

Acknowledgments: 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. Images of the ‘Home’ series were taken from the BBC website, part of the Your Paintings in partnership with PCF (Public Catalogue Foundation). The studio portraits of George Shaw were taken by Jim Wiseman during a shoot for the Observer Review supplement in 2011. More photos from the shoot can be seen here.

The lyrics to ‘Late Night Maudlin Street’ are the copyright of Morrissey, as far as I know. If he, or any copyright holder, wishes a more formal credit, or for an image, or words, to be removed from this page, then they should contact me and I will adjust things accordingly.