Wednesday, 1 June 2016

George Shaw: My Back To Nature

A return to the National Gallery for another show which looks at the darker side of man's interaction with the natural environment as inspiration. George Shaw's My Back To Nature paintings are the fruits of his residency as the National's associate artist. Shaw took as his inspiration works by Coreggio, Poussin and Titian from the National's collection and fused these together with his own teenage experiences of walking through the forests on the outskirts of his home town of Coventry, and the furtive human behaviours which occur there, and the evidence of the activities which are left behind. The works of Titian and Poussin use the forest as a backdrop to depict figures engaged in Bacchanalian excesses, whereas Shaw captures the moment after the excesses, when the revellers have departed and all that is left is the quiet of the forest, and modern traces of their indulgences

There is a calm to the paintings, and in marked contrast to those of Poussin and Titian, all but one of Shaw's (of a man relieving himself against a tree), are devoid of human prescence. Humanity is implied in abandoned mattresses and tarpaulins, crude grafitti scarring trees, and beer cans and well-thumbed top-shelf magazines. I like that he reined in these paintings as, given the subject matter, these paintings could have been much more graphic/explicit.

The humble Humbrol enamel paints that Shaw uses create a glossy surface and I was surprised at how versatile they are as medium in a high art context, as well as the varied, subtle colour palette he manages to coax out of them. Also on show are observational ink sketches, and surprisingly, some charcoal life drawings of himself adopting poses from historical paintings in the National's collection. I say surprisingly, as the figure is largely absent from his landscape works. I will most certainly return to this show before it ends in the autumn.

George Shaw: My Back To Nature
until the 30th October
National Gallery
Trafalgar Square