Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – George Shaw : My Back to Nature at the National Gallery from 11th May to 30th October 2016

Exhibition Review – George Shaw : My Back to Nature at the National Gallery from 11th May to 30th October 2016


The National Gallery’s Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist for the past two years, George Shaw has unveiled his new work based on his residency in an exhibition entitled My Back to Nature.

A former Turner Prize-nominee, Shaw revealed at the preview that the National Gallery has been a source of constant inspiration since he was a child. The artist has had a lifelong enthusiasm for the Old Masters and his residency as the ninth Rootstein Hopkins Associate Artist gave him a studio within the National Gallery to help demonstrate the Old Masters importance for contemporary artists.


The exhibition features 50 new paintings and drawings predominantly woodland landscapes which feature Shaw’s exploration of the clash of cultures; classical stories linked to timeless behaviour in the modern world.


When entering the exhibition, visitors encounter a series of 14 self-portrait drawings in the various poses taken up by Christ in traditional Stations of the Cross compositions. Representations of the bloody body of Christ (as in Carlo Crivelli’s The Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels) has been an area of fascination for Shaw over a long period of time.


Although the classical themes of the Old Masters would seem a world away from the paintings in the exhibition, the idea of woodland as the background to human activities such as violence, illicit sex, and drunkenness is common to both. During his teenage years, Shaw would often explore an area of neglected woodland around his home and was fascinated by the idea that the woodland was the scene of illicit practices and much of the abandoned rubbish seemed to feed into this premise.


Shaw’s paintings are not idyllic woodland scenes but rather a record of human activity away from the prying eyes of ‘civilized’ society. Pornographic magazines, obscene pictures on trees, beer cans strewn about and mysterious markings suggest that throughout human history that woodland and forests have a timeless quality within which human activities are played out.


Shaw is unusual in his use of Humbrol enamel paints for his paintings, these paints are better known for painting model trains and aeroplanes. The use of this type of paint in the depictions of trees adds a luminosity and depth which contributes to the mythical and otherworldly quality.


This intriguing free exhibition offers a modern view of many classical mythical themes and can be enjoyed on many different levels , Shaw often humorously suggests that universal timeless behaviour underpins many of these representations. Behaviour considered unacceptable in civilised society is transposed to a woodland setting. The works in the exhibition address this theme with several objects that acknowledge some of the great works within the  National Gallery. The large triptych of paintings entitled The Rude Screen, Möcht’ ich zurücke wieder wanken and Every Brush Stroke is Torn Out of My Body are on a set of canvases, made up to exactly the same size as the trio of great Titian mythologies in the gallery that continue to inspire Shaw.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

For more information, visit the National Gallery website here

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