Monday, 17 December 2012


 175 years of the
 Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore 
until Jan 3rd

THE PLACE TO GROW is a remarkable exhibition of work by artists who were students the  Royal College of Art sometime during the past 175 years. George Shaw completed an MA there in 1998 and was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 2011.These paintings - like much of Shaw's work - are of the council estate on the edge of Coventry where he grew up amid grass and trees and woodland. His works are 'fragments of memoirs', pages of a book of life. He once told  Matthew Cain from BBC Channel 4 that he identifies more with writers than artists. 
One of the things that makes his work instantly recognisable is the purity and sheen of his medium: Humbrol enamel paint, more often than not associated with model railways and Airfix kits. It's an unpretentious material, readily available, cheap, does what it's told. It rejects the flamboyance of oil and the fragility of water colour. The result is paintings which are ultra real, in that they tell us more than the eye can see. It makes the mundane, the quotidian, mysterious. And look at our vantage point: we are pressed back on the other side of the road, cut off by a wide grey empty road which occupies nearly half the painting.
The Passion, The Path on the Edge
Look too at the muddy track, the dense green vegetation, the places where the sun does - and does not - penetrate. The mystery is compounded because no one's there. But these unpopulated houses and  lanes are alive with possiblities of danger, boredom, pride, routine, competition, pleasure, duty, discovery. . At times they seem to be teeming with human presence.  (In comparison, look at the bull terriers and wheelers and dealers populating   Ray Richardson's paintings as he recreates a corner of the South London where he was born and bred). (Blog 189) .

In the artist's own words: 'I started to make these paintings out of a kind of mourning for the person I used to be: an enthusiastic, passionate teenager who read art books and novels and poems and biographies and watched films and TV and listened to music and dreamed. They are paintings of places that were familiar to me in my childhood and adolescence, places in which I found myself alone and thoughtful. They are places in which I forgot things. ... I paint the paintings of all the times and all the thoughts I lack the language to describe. For the one single moment that I can recall, I feel a dull sadness for the thousands I have forgotten'.

'I haunted the place and now it haunts me'

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