I love a show that brings together two apparently totally different artists, and finds unexpected and inspiring connections! In fact, that kind of thing is what this blog is all about, as I tried to explain in my first post way back when. And I’ve showcased a couple such exhibitions since.
So, on one hand, George Shaw, famous for painting scenes from the not-so-nice Coventry suburb he grew up in, using the kind of enamel paints more commonly used for model aeroplanes. On the other, Thomas Bewick, a 19th century wood engraver whose beautiful nature scenes and birds inspired Audubon among others. These two men are brought together in an exhibition that just opened at Laure Genillard.
Unlike other shows at this gallery, which I’ve complained about for their bat-squeak, withholding inaccessibility, the Bewick/Shaw matchup is almost shockingly immediate. Nobody who grew up in the English suburbs, me included, can fail to be captivated by Shaw’s scenes of collapsed wooden fences, pebbledashed semis with their encrustations of satellite dishes, and weak clay-like light. The enamel paints have a weirdly luxurious sheen; the paintings have a glossy neatness, despite the down-at-heel subjects.
But Shaw has another side that brings him closer to Hewick: he depicts houses and streets, but also the green spaces between them. Look at Plein Air (from 2018, above). A crop-headed man casts a shadow on a tree, which itself casts a shadow on the scrubland behind. It’s a nature scene, but unromantic, unpretty. Elsewhere, there’s a couple of other ‘natural’ series: of leaf-strewn graves, and of dead birds.
For his part, Bewick made pretty woodcuts of natural scenes, but he was also politically non-conformist, provincial (growing up just outside of Newcastle upon Tyne) and scabrous. Look closer at the top engraving in the picture above: it shows a group of happy young men leapfrogging over graves. It’s the work that gives this exhibition its title. It’s a funny scene, but also deliberately cheeky, disrespectful of respectable opinion. And in fact Bewick was outspoken in his time against war, and anti animal cruelty.
These are two outsiders, working in different media, making evocative scenes of neglected nature. Both sets of works are shot through with mordant humour. Both echo and amplify each other in this show, too.
Children Riding Gravestones George Shaw & Thomas Bewick is at Laure Genillard (London). 11 September - 06 November 2021