abstract art, a systems view

George Shaw’s ‘The New Houses’ at BALTIC presents Turner Prize 2011

with 6 comments

George Shaw says he wants ‘non-art audiences’ to appreciate his paintings, and I can see how they would (despite the Daily Mail who could only note that one included a dog-shit bin). There is a real sense in which they document what the Coventry sub urban landscape has looked like, and really looks like now. So there is a sense in which they are not paintings about painting. Maybe it is because I am filtering for it that I do find lots in his paintings, (showing at BALTIC presents Turner Prize 2011, until 8th January 2012) about the process of painting.

George Shaw The New Houses 2011 BALTIC presents Turner Prize 2011 © BALTIC & the artist Photo: Colin Davison

Am I wrong to see in ‘The New Houses’ a painting of nothing, much in the same way that some abstract painters have painted ‘nothing’?

And I must be reading in the metaphor of a blank canvas as I view the muddy ground where further new houses will be built, and consider the way in which the barriers around the building site create frames and therefore paintings within a painting, the whole becoming a meta-painting. ‘Meta’ in the sense that it is a painting that includes the smaller paintings that are held within the overall frame, and ‘meta’ also in that it is a painting about the subject of painting, a comment on painting as an act of construction, built on the razed ground of whatever was there previously, painting possibly even as a counter-creation, replacing the ‘natural’ with the artificial.

Written by Andy Parkinson

December 12, 2011 at 10:02 am

6 Responses

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  1. Very well reasoned argument – and I can see where you’re coming from with the abstract painting comparison. But is there any reason why he can’t have both audiences? Wanting a non-art audience became almost traditional in late 20th Century art – Dada, Beuys, Warhol, etc etc. And it took nothing away from the work. I’d say it lends a density of meaning to the work that it’s a real pleasure to unpick.


    December 12, 2011 at 10:38 am

  2. I’m part of a non-art audience, I think; and what I see is a painting of the future. There’s not enough context to know what’s been razed in the empty ground, so I’m not regretting the destruction of the past (though in real life, I might). Instead, the row of houses at the back of the picture suggest what will come here.

    And maybe it’s the season and the very traditional proportions of the houses, but it makes me think of the idealized families one sees on Christmas cards and the hope and happiness of such families buying a new home.

    Forest Knolls Neighborhood

    December 12, 2011 at 10:49 am

  3. Thank you for your comments, I agree Riichard that it is ‘both and’ rather than ‘either or’ and Shaw does that very well I think. And Forest Knolls, I am of course reading-in. For me there is something sad about the site and I do feel melancholy for what might have been there previosuly, I also think of the houses as rather box like and characterless, like new houses are (I live in one not unlike the ones in the picture), AND I agree with you that there is something hopeful about it too. Possibly I am seeing more ‘negative’ and you more ‘positive’ but they are both there to my way of seeing.
    (I made up that awful phrase ‘non-art audience’ so I hope I am not putting words in his mouth that he would dislike too much. In this link
    he speaks for himself, and says it much better than I did. He wants to make paintings that the professor of fine art could have a conversation about with his mother, with neither one condescending to the other.)

    Andy Parkinson

    December 12, 2011 at 8:14 pm

  4. I do think you may be filtering, but regardless it’s an interest angle. I’m not a painter so I’m likely not looking for evidence of a painting about painting, but again, I certainly see where you’re coming from. Something to ponder.
    I love this painting and the paintings within the painting; offset by the barrier frames. I know this area well, Tile Hill that is, having grown up just down the road. Mr. Shaw’s older works were of places I recognized from 30 years ago, and I like them for the memories and the nostalgia. This one shows the world I knew now gone and replaced with newness. I don’t find it alluring, I find it sad. As George has said, gone, with no edivence that it ever existed.
    So, what does the painting say to me? I’m here, on the old side looking at the new. There are construction frames with no wire, so I can can go to the new unimpeded, but maybe I just want to stay safe in the old world I know.

    Martindl in Atlanta, USA.

    December 14, 2011 at 11:44 pm

  5. Andy,
    Would you email me please regarding the painting.

    Martindl in Atlanta, USA.

    December 14, 2011 at 11:47 pm

  6. For some reason I’m not sure of, I read it even more negatively. I see a construction project that built a few new houses, razed the ground for more, and then was abandoned… Making the destruction of the trees that were presumably on the muddy ground before, a pointless waste… Maybe I read it that way because that sort of thing happens here… So I’m clearly reading into it, more so than you are I think. But to me the focus seems to be the mud, not the new houses. That makes me think the mud has been there for a while, leading to my interpretation… Yes, looking more closely I see that much of the mud is definitely greening up. This land has been cleared for a while, and has not been built on yet…


    December 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm

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