George Shaw, Back to Nature, National Portrait Gallery Exhibition and Book
George Shaw's show My Back to Nature was the culmination of a two year studio residency at the National Gallery.
The work was in response to the collection, in particular the woodland scenes painted by Titian in the 1500s depicting woodland nymphs and goddesses revelling in debauchery hidden by the cover of the forest. Shaw’s paintings show evidence of homogenous but modern human activity. From littered blue tarpaulins to torn up pornographic magazines, Shaw portrays the woodland as a place where unsavoury acts can happen away from public eye. Predominantly devoid of human figures, there is human evidence with casual disregard for the natural world. The only figure shown is a man viewed from behind, urinating against a tree. The natural landscape is so often depicted in its most romantic sense, beautiful and untouched, when in reality the natural world is so much more embroiled with human activity. In Shaw's paintings there is a sense that the moment has just passed or is about to happen, heightened by the dimming light of the sky. It could be dusk with an evening of culpable gratification ahead or dawn shedding light on a night of activities in the forest.
Using his medium of choice - Humbrol enamel paint, usually used by model hobbyists, the exhibition consisted of a series of large and small scale painting. The paintings subject matter fit perfectly with the medium. Using this manmade, purposeful paint, it emphasised the human element. It evokes memories of childhood moving from the boredom of staying at home painting model airplanes to drinking cider and causing mischief in the local woodlands.
Shaw’s paintings portrays nature in a number of ways, both as a place and as a character, with tree trunks often resembling human body parts. The blues are a key colour denoting human activity as a contrast against the green and browns of the forest. He offers an insightful and frank commentary on our natural environments and has made an intelligent comparison with the great paintings in the National Galleries collection.
Shaw is renowned for his highly detailed approach and suburban subject matter, and for his idiosyncratic medium – Humbrol enamel paint, typically used to colour model trains and aeroplanes.
Alluding to the theme of woodland in the collection, ‘My Back to Nature’ resonates with Shaw’s own experience of walking in the forest near his home town as a teenager, with the feeling that "something out of the ordinary could happen at any time there, away from the supervision of adults".