GEORGE SHAW - Woodsman

26 February - 5 April 2009


Oh so I drank one
or was it four
and when I fell on the floor...
...I drank more
stop me, stop me
stop me if you think that you’ve
heard this one before
nothing’s changed
I still love you 
I still love you
but only slightly 
less than I used to

Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before, The Smiths

Woodsman was the new name of the local pub on the midlands estate on which Shaw was brought up. Years before when it was called The New Star his mother worked there and his father had the odd drink there. Shaw himself recalls it as being post-war British modern - ‘which is a longer way of saying it was shite’- and hardly warmed at all by the white heat of optimism promised by the period of its and the artist’s birth; ‘’I remember it as being dimly Victorian in a strange way. It was an age when the insides of pubs were hidden by net curtains so there wasn’t much daylight.” He does not know why it was renamed Woodsman but suspects it was part of a remarketing gamble. However it soon caught fire and was later demolished. The corner on which it stood remains empty and is no doubt a redevelopment opportunity.


Shaw’s previous work has seen him looking back over the scenes of his childhood and adolescence. In this new show we see him looking again at those familiar places as they pass into unfamiliarity. He suspects things are being taken from him and the work is gloomily shadowed by the anxiety of himself being taken; a pub vanishes overnight, a library is boarded up, garages are flattened. In a series of large charcoal drawings Shaw returns to the woods he has painted many times. These woods were there long before any of the houses and their inhabitants, but here too we see signs of the violence of time passing; some trees have fallen over in the wind or simply of old age, others have been cut down by unseen hands, paths are blocked and new clearings have appeared. Old and new stumps stick up here and there. 


It is a landscape that recalls pictures of the Somme, Eliot’s Wasteland or the opening lines of Poe’s Fall of the House of Usher; ‘’The woods was a place of escape and I suppose it still is. Sometimes it is more like being inside than outside. You can hear the world nearby - kids playing, cars passing, grass being cut - but it’s over there and outside. Now the woodsman has come. He brings the outside. He brings the present tense. Behind him comes the close of day.”


The influences Shaw cites in the making of these works include the late landscapes of Millais, two paintings of Lowry’s, The Lake (1937) and An Island(1942), Thomas Hardy, Terence Davies’ film Trilogy, the 70’s TV series Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, Philip Larkin and the music of The Specials and The Smiths.


“THERE IS NO NEW WORK. It is the old work rotting and I can’t recognise it anymore. It is the old world rotting and I see it for what it is. For the first time maybe. It is departing slowly from me. Waving gently and nodding as though it will be all OK in the end, that it’s just nature, just the way of things. The things that made me are in themselves becoming unmade. What appeared permanent and solid and outside of time is coming apart and falling behind itself.


Memory becomes as unreliable as forgetting. Reality lacks the poetry of melting into air. The familiar falls beyond use and lies in the way. I carry within myself an older man. His illness slows me, his dried mouth robs me of speech, his amnesia forces me to live in the today. But after all this I still cannot come to terms with the simple fact that life slips away and time is called everywhere everyday. What some may call a subject or an idea or an answer to the question what is your work about? is only an act of holding on.”