All of George Shaw’s paintings of the Tile Hill estate in Coventry are based on photographs. He has thousands of them, archived in shoe boxes, stuck to the wall of his studio, scattered around his work area – none are ever thrown away. His paintings are largely faithful to their photographic sources, reproducing the camera’s expanded field of vision and its homogeneous, ordered space.
This objective gaze – the camera’s impartial vision masquerading as that of the eye – is remarkably seductive, and it has often overdetermined the reading of Shaw’s landscape paintings. But there’s a disquiet at the heart of Shaw’s practice that troubles notions of objectivity and impartiality. A similar tension – between order and disorder, between distanced appraisal and close, passionate involvement – haunts the history of the Western landscape tradition, from eighteenth century picturesque aesthetics all the way through to contemporary landscape photography. Intimately entwined with Shaw’s practice, this historical lineage also suggests new ways of understanding his work.