George Shaw was born in Coventry, England in 1966. He studied at Sheffield Polytechnic and later the Royal College of Art, London. Shaw has exhibited widely both in Britain and internationally, with recent solo exhibitions and commissions including: National Gallery, London, 2016; Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin, 2013; The South London Gallery, London, 2011; Galerie Hussenot, Paris, 2008; Clough Hanson Gallery, Rhodes College, Memphis, 2007 and The Royal College of Art, London, 1998. In 2001, Shaw was shortlisted for the Turner Prize. He lives and works in Devon. 

George Shaw is known for his use of Humbrol enamel paint, normally used to paint model vehicles, and while landscape is his subject, he focuses on the suburban surroundings of his childhood rather than the countryside. His paintings and drawings depict bus stops, phone boxes and graffiti against a backdrop of semi-detached homes, blocks of flats and expanses of grey sky. This view of England is not always flattering, but it offers a detailed study of the changing nature of social housing; these unconsidered or neglected landscapes suddenly elevated by personal memory.

Ash Wednesday: 3pm is part of a series of works produced at half-hour intervals throughout the day, around the Tile Hill housing estate in Coventry. The work depicts a typical council house with a leafless tree dominating the modest front garden. The closed curtains and sparseness of the season creating a domestic scene from which signs of life are strangely absent. By painting Tile Hill Estate over and over again, from photographs and memory, repetitive almost to the point of ritual, Shaw is recording his changing relationship to the place. In this way his paintings of Tile Hill join together to form, he says, ‘one big painting’ , which acts like a self-portrait.

Shaw’s paintings are about end of an era: personally, since he left home, and more broadly, referring to the bigger picture of post-industrial decline. The city of Coventry, in the West Midlands, was the target of severe bombing during World War II. The city was rebuilt in the 1950s and ‘60s. At that time the car industry was booming, but where it was once a thriving place to live, as production dwindled, so have estates such as Tile Hill. Shaw materially and conceptually unites his paintings by his use of enamel paint, specifically the sort made by British manufacturer Humbrol. Humbrol enamel paint is normally used for crafts, rather than fine art, and dries to a hard, glossy finish. It’s the stuff used by children and enthusiasts for the rather old-fashioned hobby of coating Airfix models of Spitfires and Hurricanes – those being the aircraft that helped win the Battle of Britain in summer 1940, when Coventry suffered the worst of the blitz.