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Cabin Fever

1 Aug

Over the early months of this year and on into Spring, I went on walks in Shropshire with some friends of mine, and I recorded my observations of cabins, caravans and sheds of various kinds.  (Also see earlier Homely post).  Each place was evidently a place of previous or ongoing habitation, mostly by persons unknown.  The circumstances of their abandonment are also unknown or ambiguous, but provoking curiosity.  Certain of the places were so ramshackle or spartan as to be unlikely places of long term living in any sort of comfort, and were perhaps only used as temporary shelter, or even merely as storage.  In their woodland surroundings, these places could be viewed as idyllic retreat or desperate refuge.

The drawings have formed a series entitled “Inhabited”, which I hope to exhibit as a body of work at some stage.  As I made drawings, initially in charcoal and later trying out various studies using collage/mixed media, pastels and finally using an ipad, I pondered this precarious living and what it might feel like to exist in these places. My musings have spun off in many directions.  We could be looking at post-apocalyptic refuges, or take away the signs of modern technology and detritus, and we could be looking at some form of Mesolithic shelter or the transition to a Neolithic hut.

 

These first three studies were made from photographs taken in woodland on hills close to the Welsh border (see earlier Motor Plantation post).  This first drawing has been selected for the “Eden” exhibition at Participate Contemporary Artspace by curator, Katie Hodson.  The exhibition runs from 5th August to 26th August 2017 (11am to 5pm Tues – Sat)

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“When Adam Delved”, charcoal on paper, 420mm x 594mm

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“Retreat in Winter” charcoal on paper, 420mm x 594mm

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“And Eve Span” pastel on paper, 420mm x 594mm

Gaston Bachelard’s “Poetics of Space” was brought to mind as I reflected on my reveries.  It seems to be a bit of a cliché at the moment to be referring to that work – since making the connection with my drawings, I have read about three different current art projects also inspired by the book.  Nonetheless, it is a book that, as I have found, rewards re-reading and there are clear resonances with Bachlard’s writing as I begin to daydream about all my own experiences of house and home.

“Memory – what a strange thing it is! – does not record concrete duration, in the Bergsonian sense of the word.  We are unable to relive duration that has been destroyed.  We can only think of it, in the line of an abstract tie that is deprived of all thickness… Memories are motionless, and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are.”

“And all the spaces of our past moments of solitude, the spaces in which we have suffered solitude, enjoyed, desired and compromised solitude, remain indelible within us…”

“Great images have both a history and a prehistory; they are always a blend of memory and legend, with the result that we never experience an image directly.  Indeed, every great image has an unfathomable oneiric depth to which the personal past adds special colour”.

Bachelard is convinced of the importance of the house where we were born in informing our ongoing experience of houses/spaces.

“In short, the house we were born in has engraved with us the hierarchy of the various functions of inhabiting”

“…our attachment for the house we were born in, dream is more powerful than thought”

My family moved to a new bungalow when I was only a few months old so I have almost no recollection at all of the first house that I lived in.  So if Bachelard is correct, then this must be deep-seated in my unconscious.  I prefer to believe that all of the houses we live in create an accumulated experience of inhabiting, shaped most strongly by those formative experiences.

Bachelard goes on to discuss the primitive elements in our notions of inhabiting huts,

“… the  “hut dream” which is well-known to everyone who cherishes the legendary images of primitive houses.  But in most hut dreams we hope to live elsewhere, far from the over-crowded house, far from city cares.”

“When we look at images of this kind … we start musing on primitiveness.  And because of this very primitiveness, restored, desired and experienced through simple images, an album of pictures of huts would constitute a textbook of simple exercises for the phenomenology of the imagination.”

On a walk alongside the River Severn from Arley to Bewdley, I passed by a large number of plotland dwellings.  I’m not sure when these were originally built, but plotland houses began in the UK around 1870 when marginal agricultural land was developed by self-builders largely outside the planning system.  Some developments remain, the most well known appear to be in Canvey Island, Basildon, Herne Bay, Shepperton, Dungeness and Jaywick. See here for an account of plotlands on the River Dee near Chester.

More obviously than other places I encountered, these cabins have been cherished and developed beyond their original construction.  In many ways, they appeared to be the ideal cosy cabin in the woods – yet on the damp, misty day of our walk there was more than an element of sinister, malevolence hanging in the air also.

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“Plotlander I”, charcoal on paper, 420mm x 594mm

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“Plotlander II”, 420mm x 594mm

Bachelard continues to explore the idea of the hermit’s hut:

“Its truth must derive from the intensity of its essence, which is the essence of the verb “to inhabit”.

This place on the outskirts of Shrewsbury inspired several studies – which I am continuing to explore.

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“Retreat I” collage/mixed media study, 420mm x 594mm

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“Retreat II” charcoal on paper, 420mm x 594mm

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“Retreat study”, graphite on paper, 297mm x 420mm

The last place, barely discernible as a cabin, so overgrown with ivy, is in a “secret” woodland in Shrewsbury.  I’m beginning a series of works about this one, quite magical, place – further news on that to follow.  For now here’s a preview of an ipad drawing, now beautifully printed as a giclée print at A2 size, mounted and framed.  Looks great, if I say so myself.

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“Who was then the gentleman” ipad drawing available as giclee print, 420mm x 594mm

The title of the latter drawing and two of the earlier studies originate from the speech made by radical preacher, John Ball, in which he insisted on social equality, and which led to the ultimately futile Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.  In reflecting on the drawings and on the long span of human history, I began to wonder if there was ever a time, or ever could be a time, when, even in primitive living conditions such as those depicted, one human did not, or will not, exert power over another.  Perhaps its a bit of a stretch to get from a drawing of a run down hut to the Peasants Revolt, but it was on my mind nonetheless.

Bachelard’s “Poetics of Space” focuses on the phenomenology of the individual experience in houses, nests and other nooks and crannies.  The house assumes a life and identity of itself, inextricably linked with its sole inhabitant.

“…that faraway house with its light becomes for me, before me, a house that is looking out – its turn now! – through the keyhole.  yes, there is someone in that house who is keeping watch, a man is working there while I dream away.  He leads a dogged existence, whereas I am pursuing futile dreams.  Through its light alone, the house becomes human.  It sees like a man.  It is an eye open to night”

But what happens when two or more people begin living together.  Clearly, the dynamic changes dramatically.  It seems there must inevitably be a tension, a contest between the individual connections with house, the relationship between the group and their house, and the identity of the house itself.  In that contest, is a source of power struggle.  Perhaps the desire for the “hermit’s hut” is stronger than we like to think.

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Give me a hand

29 Jul

After a flurry of exhibition and creative activity, what better way to enjoy the Summer weather than a relaxing stroll around Telford’s Stafford Park Industrial Estate?

It was a baking hot and humid day at the end of July and a storm was building to the west as I made a circuit through the estate…

…before going over and across the roar of the M54, ambling around Priorslee Lake and the quiet suburbs…

…some found paintings:

then back into the estate:

I find something enticingly eerie about the huge monolithic sheds, the boom, clank and hiss of machinery, the almost complete lack of people visible, and the incessant movement of vehicles.  I feel a part of a larger machine, where stuff is made, moved around and, sometimes, stuff is brought back in.

Around lunchtime, some people, mostly men, emerge to walk around the block, to stand smoking, staring at the traffic, or to dodge across the road to the uninviting cafe for a sandwich.

“…And there’s no thanks
From the loading bay ranks…”

Always in such places, I recall the Fall’s “Industrial Estate” and “Container Drivers”, Mark E Smith… so clinical and relentless.  So evocative of my youth, listening to the Kicker Conspiracy EP, “Wings” again and again.

Detritus lies scattered in the verges and under every bush.  Landscaping so carefully planned for a life of minimal maintenance.

I am curious about the large numbers of discarded, or perhaps just lost, gloves.  Poignant remnants of human contact.  Always just a single glove.  Were they dropped by accident?  Or were they jettisoned once the owner realised there was no longer a pair?  Or are they a secret sign… a code between drivers … of a place they can go to escape?  Or are they a call for help?

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Space Explorers!

1 Jun Andrew Howe Space Explorers

My walking workshop event at the Hive stimulated some interesting responses.  May 23rd was a a beautiful warm Summer evening in Shrewsbury, and after my brief introduction in the gallery to my exhibition and ways of working, we set out for a walk of about 30 minutes.

Everyone was familiar with the town, so I wanted to try and break habitual ways of observation and remove some of the filters we employ when we walk from A to B.  Using input from participants I developed a simple algorithm to guide me on  route to our destination.  None of us knew where we would end up, so we just had to concentrate on being in the moment, taking in the overwhelming flood of sensory experience when we limit other distractions.  I walked at a brisk pace which was a frustration to some who wanted to linger and study passing views in more detail.  Overall though, the algorithmic walk was a fascinating experience, and most of the attendees began noticing details they might otherwise have missed.  I even walked through several locations around the town centre that I had never visited before in 20 years.

We arrived at Frankwell car park between the Guildhall and River Severn.  Clouds of mayflies danced in the low sunlight, a cricket match commenced in the sports field nearby, a fellow artist wandered by walking their dog, groups of kids hung about by the river – it was a relaxed atmosphere in which to gather materials to make art.  Participants made sketches, tracings, rubbings, photographs and recorded experiences in text.

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On our return to the Hive, and after some refreshment, we began making small collage/installations using some of the gathered materials.  We worked quickly and spontaneously to work with instinctive ideas.

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I was impressed with what could be created in a short space of time.  It was interesting to see how our collective experiences of the place overlapped and contrasted, how unique visual maps had been generated by each person.

Some of the work we made:

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Exhibition at the Hive

20 Apr

Here’s another opportunity to see some of the paintings I exhibited in my In Parallel show at Participate Contemporary Artspace last year, plus new paintings and my In Parallel and Entwined book:

The Hive,
5 Belmont, Shrewsbury,
SY1 1TE

24th April to 27th May 2017
Tuesday – Friday from 9AM – 5PM

During the exhibition, I plan to run a Space Explorers workshop from the Hive involving walking and gathering inspiration for creative activity:

Tuesday 23rd May 2017

17:30 – 21:00h

£7 per person.  Places are limited so book early please.

Call the Hive on 01743 234970 or see website for further details.

Andrew Howe Space Explorers

Open to everyone with an interest in using walking to find inspiration and materials for creating art work.  No particular artistic ability is required.  The workshop will encourage different ways of looking and spontaneity in putting ideas together.

Meet in the Hive Gallery at 5.30pm before setting out on foot into the cosmos.

Some paper and art materials will be provided, but you are welcome to bring your own small sketchbooks, camera or drawing materials.

The walk will last 30-40 minutes, brisk paced over urban terrain, possibly including steps but no climbing.  There will be a short break for drinks and light refreshments after the walk and before the art making.  You are welcome to bring your own food.

 

The exhibition will feature some new works including my In Parallel and Entwined book, an oil painting triptych and a polyptych of 9 small mixed media panels.

The fire exit staircase appeared as a motif in the original exhibition.  I was struck by its sculptural form and yet its mundane functionality tends to make it “invisible” or easily overlooked.

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Rising, oil on canvas triptych, 3 x 300mm x 400mm

The other new work “Pieces” resulted from experiments with combining small scale panels mounted in grids.  I used different techniques of painting and collage, continuing the themes of the exhibition, to produce a large number of panels.  So far “Pieces” is the only finished work, but I expect to produce some more over time.  Putting individual paintings together in these arrays opens up more connections and narratives between paintings that would not work if I was to just combine images within one painting.  Next step may be to play around with the scale and formal/informal arrangement of the panels.

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Pieces, 150mm x 150mm x 9 mixed media panels

Pieces (detail)

 

 

Homely

11 Apr

I mentioned in an earlier post that my research following my In Parallel project has broadly followed two lines of enquiry: one using collage, paint and layering to explore relations between organic and human-made forms and ideas around mapping; the other is looking at edgelands in relation to the sense of home, belonging and security in a series of paintings.  The former works are predominantly process-led and abstract, whereas the latter are figurative paintings.

In these times of uncertainty and intolerance, I aim to raise issues with these paintings about isolationism, migration, refuge, outsiders, the other.

On a camping trip last year near Ledbury, I was fascinated by a caravan parked near an old agricultural shed in a woodland which was full of discarded/stored building materials, like found sculptures.  There was an edgeland or “outsider” feel to this scene. The caravan was evidently occupied, a man emerged occasionally, and there were rare glimpses of his partner, but it was ambiguous as to whether it was a permanent living space, or just a temporary visit.  I was drawn to the marginal, outsider aspect.

I took some photos, and made a sketch in situ, which I later made into a quick watercolour study in the studio.

Following further studies, I produced a small canvas with pinkish, “scratchy” ground.

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Away, oil on canvas, 355mm x 250mm

I like the small scale canvas, but for the next in the series I increased the scale.  This time I worked on the wrecked cabin/caravan I found near the Coton Hill allotments site.

I experimented with different coloured grounds and printed wallpaper.  I was unable to source any real retro wallpaper, and didn’t have the chance to get back to the caravan to see if I could scavenge some – its probably too mouldy now anyway.  I went with a slightly more restrained approach, reducing the palette, using a mix of warm and cold grey/blue/green colours.  How does the painted wallpaper affect how the image is read? Are we conscious that it is more mediated, unreal, or do we just see it as part of the painting, when everything else is painted?

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In other studies I reduced the subject into abstract shapes and textures, and played around with different viewpoints and spatial organisation.  I was looking for an impression of the interior without having to reproduce the actual layout/view.

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Get Away Study 5, oil on canvas 400mm x 300mm

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Get Away Study 4, oil on canvas, 400mm x 300mm

 

There is something about the grungy yellow brown colours and overly ornate patterning which marks the wallpaper out as originating in the late 60s/early 70s and conjures up childhood memories.  Viewers have commented to me how they are be “able to remember the homeliness but smell the damp in this scene”.  This is about faded, degraded nostalgia.

These studies show an interesting progression towards the final painting in which I bring all the elements together.

The title plays a role in interpreting this painting.  I toyed originally with naming it “While you were out”, perhaps implying that this was a scene of vandalism and violence, or merely the effects of the ravages of time once the occupants vacated the place.  Then it was “Get out” until a film was released under that name, so now it is “Get Away”.  This also has multiple meanings, on one hand it suggests a place of refuge, escaping the world’s harsh realities, later succumbing to dilapidation and decay, while on the other hand, it could refer to a more violent attack on the occupants.

I really don’t know what the story behind this cabin was – it is located down a private track, about half a mile from the edge of a housing estate, in an overgrown field adjacent to allotments and surrounded by beehives in a poor state of repair.  There was a heavy atmosphere in a quiet place.  So the ambiguity in the painting title is fitting.

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Get Away, oil on canvas, 650mm x 500mm

 

Motor Plantation

26 Feb

Thoughts and images from a recent walk in woodland below the local hills – not quite an Edwardian picnic:

The gleaming beauty that was yearned for
Striving to earn more
Slumps here amidst the trees
Silent and dull

The industrious and hopeful
Relieved the weary world of its burden
With the cogs and the pipes and the cables
They built a time machine
To explore the future
And looping back to these relics
Catch a glimpse of star dust
As the Earth reclaims its bounty

Now, diverted by brighter lights and shinier stuff
They rise up and glide away
into the gentle breeze
While others far below cling to the ground
against an icy wind

The Art of Relating Sites

21 Oct

Earlier in the Summer, on consecutive days, I had the pleasure of seeing Laura Oldfield Ford and George Shaw give talks about their respective exhibitions at Grand Union, in Birmingham, and the National Gallery.

I had researched both artists as part of my contextual study in edgelands, site specific art and psychogeography for my Creative Arts BA, and they feature in my extended written project. The paper investigates some strategies that artists employ in relation to site-based art, focusing particularly on painters. It reviews the extent to which a selection of contemporary artists measure up to the challenge of Miwon Kwon’s relational specificity. Kwon asserts that they should deal with the:

“uneven conditions of adjacencies and distances between one thing, one person, one place, one thought, one fragment next to another, rather than invoking equivalences one thing after another” (Kwon, 2002).

It is suggested that psychogeography offers a productive means of making connections between adjacent places in time and space in order to foster new and unexpected perspectives on a site.

You can download the essay here:  160406-a-howe-the-art-of-relating-sites_final

 

Laura Oldfield Ford’s show Cnothic Reverb was the result of a residency at Grand Union in the Summer of 2015.  It comprised a 30 min sound installation (city sounds, music fro 80s, 90s, 00s) and Ford’s voice describing thoughts, reminiscences and experiences of Birmingham) plus black and white photographs and copies of drawings posted onto wooden and citex billboards constructed into an enclosed rectangular layout within the gallery.  Ford’s characteristic pink was used as coloured fluorescent strip tube lighting.

Walking around Digbeth beforehand, I had very similar experiences to those explored by the artist in her powerfully atmospheric show.  Like Ford, I was returning to this area of Birmingham for the first time in about 20 years. Some areas were threatening (was this just because I was no longer familiar) but other areas felt the same (eg the areas around the Custard Factory).  There were large amounts of graffiti, security devices/fencing/wire and lots of dark “goings-on” behind industrial metal doors and boarded up buildings.  There seemed to be endless car/taxi respray and maintenance workshops interspersed with gentrifying art/music/design studios.

There was a strange eclectic mix of furtive people in alleyways, doing something on phones, snogging in corners, sawing a wooden crate for some unfathomable reason, standing in groups on corners talking or smoking.  There were arty or well dressed affluent folk and more “ordinary” working folk on their way home.  Some photos I took on the day:

There was a buzz, a tension.  As I got used to the atmosphere, I reacclimatised and felt more comfortable, invisible.  But still I didn’t fancy walking down onto the canal towpath, through a graffiti-covered seating area, populated initially by 3 overexcited kids, possibly drunk, on drugs or glue or just being kids off school, and later by two wizened old drunks.

Walking out of the glitz of the Birmingham Bull Ring towards Digbeth I was struck by the rapid change in the people from bright happy shoppers to more downbeat individuals waiting listlessly for buses, ambling along or homeless sitting on any available vantage point.  I was accosted (politely) for help by an Irishman, and given looks of cautious suspicion by people of Asian or eastern European appearance.

Am I remembering something that really happened, something someone else talked to me about or something I just imagined.  For example, returning to town via the large area of land left vacant ready for the incoming HS2 station, I saw the derelict shell of the Fox and Grapes pub on Freeman Street.  That name rings a bell, but I recall going to a different pub on or near that road (The Vine?) but the Fox and Grapes did seem familiar.  I “remembered” a Summer afternoon, mid-week when I went there, played pool, listened to the Happy Mondays (Thrills, Pills and Bellyaches LP) with either my brother(s) or possibly one of my Moseley mates, or was it someone else?  Or am I just imagining the whole thing?  Our perception of the world we see is based on memories and hearsay that we just can’t rely on.

Ford’s commentary alluded to place, her memories of pubs and buildings, and the history of local events such as the Battle of Saltley Gate” during the Miner’s Strike of 1973 – she said “we need to remember when “we were on top”– and “make new positive trajectories” that may modify the writing of political history or instigate actions along these new trajectories.

The conversation with Dr Phil Jones (urban geography lecturer at Birmingham University) was slightly disappointing but it did prompt some good insight into Ford’s thinking and psychogeographical methods – using the derive as a starting point for her work.  Despite her relatively diminutive stature and neat appearance, she has an aura of anger and history of living in squats and political activism.  I asked her about whether her work may increasingly draw on the optimistic aspects (in reference to her positive trajectories which in turn referenced Walter Benjamin’s  writings) to suggest future solutions.  I had previously heard criticism of her, because despite her anger, she fails to make positive alternative proposals – and indeed she avoided doing so when asked directly by Phil Jones.  I can see that there are signs in her paintings of the positive aspects of community cohesion.  She acknowledged my support but did not say much more about whether her approach may change to a more optimistic, constructive view.  In a way, why should she?  Art can be about raising issues and asking questions, expressing anger … without necessarily having all the answers.

On the following day I travelled to London to see “My Back to Nature” by George Shaw at the National Gallery.

In reading the excellent website by Duncan McLaren Scenes from the Passion, following his work in detail, I became more aware how autobiographical Shaw’s paintings of the Tile Hill estate are. They are not just nostalgic reminiscences of places he knew growing up, the paintings reflect Shaw’s moods and his experience after the death of his father.  (Shaw ceased painting for some time after this event).  For example, paintings of tree trunks in earlier work were revisited but now they were literally truncated, chopped down or burnt and vandalised.  Clearly a metaphor for life that I had not fully considered previously. Trees become anthropomorphised, and are certainly corporeal in several paintings, including this new exhibition. Similarly, Shaw’s paintings of fences, walls and other barriers perhaps reflect some of the feelings of frustration and loss he had in coming to terms with life after his father’s death.

The exhibition press release is here.  There is some interesting insight in the touring information sheet, revealing some of the mythological background to the paintings, and also a glimpse of some Shaw’s studies in his studio space at the National.  I was aware that there is a considerable background of cultural references behind Shaw’s paintings, and he evidently gives each work a great deal of thought.  This is reflected in his writings, and interviews.  Certainly a line can be drawn from a Neo-Romantic heritage to Shaw’s work.  He lacks the political anger of Ford, while taking a more realist, pragmatic, honest view of the contemporary landscape.  Perhaps closer to the paintings of Sutherland, Nash and Piper than Ford’s urban viewpoint.

In his residency at the National Gallery as part of the Associate Artist scheme, Shaw has interpreted paintings from the collection whilst keeping within his known territory of the woodland near the Tile Hill estate.  The paintings are inspired particularly by Titian’s Death of Actaeon and Diana and Actaeon.  Poussin and Constable are also references, and it was fascinating to see the exhibition and view these paintings face to face.  The blue plastic sheeting, the fragmented porn mags, and graffiti on tree trunks take on new significance in the paintings, and I see the links with the old.  I am also reminded of the passage about the English affinity for woodland, (and the oak tree in particular) in Schama’s “Landscape and Memory”.

The interview with Shaw in the a-n website also provides some interesting insight,  as does this BBC Radio 4 interview.

There is a review of the exhibition in the Observer here.  And an earlier review in the Guardian here.

The review in the Telegraph was less enamoured with the exhibition and is not impressed by Shaw’s contemporary interpretations of the paintings in the National Gallery.  It does not seem to make the connections with Shaw’s earlier work.  This is what they say:

“Gone are the goddesses and forest nymphs, replaced by discarded beer cans and the scattered pages of porn mags. Elsewhere Shaw depicts a tree trunk with a large phallus graffitied on it.

In short, he opts for slightly coarse, 21st-Century twists on age-old erotic myths, bringing the illicit sex and drunkenness of works like Poussin’s Triumph of Pan into the present day.

In one scene – the ironically titled Call of Nature – Shaw himself can be seen urinating against the foot of a tree, but this is the only figure we see. The other scenes are entirely depopulated; in some cases they’re so bare even the trees are bereft of leaves. Does Shaw want us to pause for thought about how modern man has despoiled his landscape?”

I don’t think Shaw is making a strong ascerbic point about human impact on nature (although he is making a point), but he is drawing attention to the fact that nature can resist and thrive in spite of human disregard. At least, that is my thinking on the subject. Shaw’s perspective is complex.  I suspect he found the woodland of his youth a place of refuge and calm, but also of threat and darkness.  Certainly, he sees the litter and casual disregard for nature as symptomatic of contemporary human attitudes.  Yet he also views the woodland as representing a place of freedom.  The meticulous style of painting is surely evidence of Shaw’s love for the woodland/nature – and this is also seen in his paintings of shabby housing and wasteland.  The painting of Shaw urinating against a tree, is more ambiguous, perhaps recalling a time when he was not so observant or caring of nature.  Or perhaps, it acknowledges something in himself that is always at heart a grimy urbanite, someone who can never have true affinity with nature.

Shaw reveals that initially he saw the residency as an opportunity to change his style or subject matter, and indeed some of the early work comprises 14 charcoal self-portraits in the positions of Christ in the Stations of the Cross (which he knew from his local church in Coventry).  While these offer a different perspective on the artist, and they do relate to other work in the National Gallery, they do not sit easily for me alongside the woodland paintings he returned to, of which Shaw has made a huge number during the 2 years.  I should not be so surprised by the self-portraits since Shaw studied performance art, not painting, in his first fine art degree.

One of the main technical changes Shaw made in this exhibition was to move away from painting on board (mdf or plywood) and to use canvas, which relates with the materials used by the Old Masters in the Gallery.  He still used the Humbrol enamels, which he says, he initially adopted as a means of distancing himself from the established history of oil painting. The enamel paint is quite dark and glossy on board, but it seemed softer and less reflective on canvas.  Either Shaw is refined his technique, or the canvas allows for greater subtlety.

I admire the way in which Shaw has found a voice that rarely strays from a specific location and landscape, and yet he is able to layer on multiple meanings and moods that reflect both his own personal story, but also wider views on society.  Shaw uses a familiar place to make universal statements.  My own range of painting subjects and places is more diverse than Shaw’s, and at the moment, I would find it restrictive to stay focused on one site.  But it is useful to think about how I can use motifs or themes that I revisit frequently to reflect thoughts and views which may have a tangential connection to what appears to be the main subject in the painting.

Trees and woodland, for example, regularly feature in my work (eg “Ours Too” – the rope swing painting or “Ours” –  the den painting), and I made a book some time ago collecting various paintings and photographs together with haiku poems by Colin Blundell, called “We’re Not Out of the Woods Yet”.  I can see many connections with George Shaw in the topographical visual aesthetic, the corporeal tree trunk, the “mistreatment” of woodland by people or rather the use of liminal spaces for experimentation and play, such as kids making dens, trying cigarettes and alcohol.  My painting “Trunk” has some similarities with Shaw’s preoccupation with tree trunks.  It shows my own geometric aesthetic, and I recognise the parallel verticals which feature in others of my paintings.

There is no doubt that woodland was a formative landscape during my childhood and teenage years when I used to go into Ecclesall Woods near my house in Sheffield, in much the same way that it was for George Shaw.  Now Shaw has established such a strong identity for himself with the edgelands, I feel slightly intimidated in trying to forge my own identity with this subject matter.  This is a little like how Shaw must have felt during his 2 year residency, walking in past the Velazquez and Rubens.

In the evening I attended the event: George Shaw in conversation with Paul Farley (edgelands poet and co-author with Michael Symmons Roberts of “Edgelands: Journeys into England’s True Wilderness”)

There was inevitably some mutual self-indulgence in this conversation but some of the points I took included:

  • the edgelands are not really feral, they are not wilderness, they are only yards from “civilisation” where one can hear car alarms, children shouting etc;
  • the woodlands are places only adolescents (and criminals) feel empowered to experiment in because there are no rules, no CCTV, no parents, no one is watching;
  • for others they are a place of threat of violence and wild behaviour or a place to rediscover the liberation of adolescence;
  • there are only a limited number of narrative themes, whether Shaw really sees these themes, or whether he creates/constructs a scenario based on classical references;
  • edgelands have stopped being the unnoticed landscape, and by the very nature of their being explored are being changed.