George Shaw: National Gallery Visit

George Shaw:

After researching landscape artists that were e recommended I found that artist George Shaw had recently had residency within the National Gallery in London and there was his exhibition on at present. I decided to go and see his work as I was quite intrigued in his thoughts and process and wanted to know more. I’m so glad I did.

National Gallery Visit – Thursday 20th October

George Shaw has always loved the National Gallery and would frequently visit as a young child. His work is inspired by the themes of the paintings in the national gallery from artists such as; Constable and Poussin, which whilst he had his residency at the gallery, created initial sketches from their works. He finds a relationship featuring violence, sex and drunkenness between his work and the works of artists’ work in the gallery. His work reflects more of a modern reaction to how people may behave in today’s society. Shaw has a great interest in Christian imagery, which draws his attention to the work in the gallery.

I really liked his study called ‘hanging around’. A landscape without figures.

I reordered my thoughts as I walked around Shaw’s work:

  • I was very surprised and intrigued in my dismissal towards the national gallery as I was had found it ‘boring’ but Shaw makes me re-think my initial reaction to the paintings within the gallery.  He creates a modern day twist that I otherwise thought would still include mythical creatures and so on – but it is so different to that.
  • I am keen to create a piece of work much like Shaw’s (‘Hanging Around’) with ink. I would like to try a very similar approach. It links to; silhouette works, my choice of media (black ink), simple drawings, make a light wash in the background first.
  • He created very quick sketches around the gallery of other artists work – NOTE: need to take a sketchbook around with me when I travel
  • He also created works, which I believe, very much elate to the cubist style, or similar.
  • I noticed for his tree studies, he focused on tree trunks and the detail they hold – something that maybe I could pick up on in my studies. He eludes the viewer of the danger and mystical feeling of being in the woods and he makes the viewer wanting to know more.
  • he creates images within his paintings of; violence, sex and disillusions, and he’s graphic and obvious about it in doing so.

I asked myself some questions about his work:

  • How does it link to mythical and renaissance paintings that he says he gets his inspiration from?
  • I know it relates to sex but why not just paint people having sex in the scene that you have created? I developed my own answer to this – I learnt that the whole idea was to extract figures from the painting/scene and then as I turned to the next painting I found a male figure in the painting, urinating up against a tree.

His studio sketches show a lot of figure drawing and sketches based upon mythological poses.

Within the exhibition there was a video interview of Shaw and of his studio work –

Below are some quotes, from Shaw, that stood out for me;

  • ‘paintings of trees are much more exciting that looking at a tree’
  • ‘its the national gallery – bit like playing for England’ – for him to have been given the residency at the national gallery was the most amazing thing ever.

Shaw was nominated for the Turner prize in 2011 for his photorealist landscapes. I learnt a lot about the paintings within the gallery are full of innuendos themselves, just like Shaw’s work, but is harder for me to interpret them, something I had never noticed before. This made me understand slightly more about the relationship Shaw’s work had with the work in the gallery. The piece that Shaw pointed out in the film was ‘Actaeon’ by Titian. He is inspired by the religious, Christian paintings within the gallery. He mentions that a lot of them contain the crucifix and he is intrigued by this.

His main purpose in creating these paintings are to tell a story. He doesn’t pick a beautiful landscape. He chooses to a paint a wood and transforms this in telling its story. Shaw considers the history in the landscape, mainly of adolescent’s learning and developing themselves as individuals. I.e. A wood/forest is a first time for many events – ‘your first fag’, ‘first condom opening experience’, it relates to your childhood – ‘as a kid you want to run in’. Shaw comments on the fact we look past the rubbish and focus on the beauty of nature. He brings your attention to the real life experiences that are found in the woods; such a your first smoke.

His ultimate message was to ‘discover yourself – loose yourself in nature’. He says ‘you, me, everyone has their ‘back’ to nature’ this plays on the idea of coming back into nature rather than being in a gallery.

It was such an eye opening exhibition and really made me get to grips with Shaw’s message that he tries to voice through his works of art. (Shaw. National Gallery, 2016)

Shaw, G. (2016) My Back to Nature [Exhibition] London: National Gallery. 11 May – 30 October 2016.

Not allowed to take pictures so got images off internet:

Figure 1. Shaw, G. (2014) Study for Hanging around (landscape without Figures) [unknown]At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 2. Shaw, G. (2015-16) The Living Dead [unknown] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)

Figure 3. Shaw, G. (unknown) The Old Master [unknown] At: (Accessed on 29 December 2017)


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