THE LOST OF ENGLAND:

ANOTHER MINUTE'S SILENCE




Connoisseurs of George Shaw's work who attended the 2017 exhibition at Maruani Mercier in Brussels would have been forgiven for thinking that they'd seen one of the paintings before. This one:

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George Shaw. Another Minute's Silence, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 46 x 55cm

This is because the conjunction of tree-trunk and gable wall had been painted before. Several times. Once, as part of the magnificent Ash Wednesday series. Where the tree stands for Christ on the cross; the wound in his side clearer to see in the shadow cast on the wall.

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George Shaw. Ash Wednesday: 8am, 2004/5: Humbrol enamel on board. 92x121cm

Then again as part of the 'Woodsman' set of paintings, composed in the aftermath of Shaw's father's death. A once tall and healthy tree cut down in its maturity. A man ditto.

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George Shaw. It is finished, 2009: Humbrol enamel on board. 147x198cm

I located this site when working on the Ash Wednesday series. Below is a photo courtesy of the Google camera in 2008. The site is within a hundred yards or so of the house that George Shaw was brought up in.

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If the three paintings are placed in date order - 2004/5, 2009 and 2017 - the result is this ostensibly upbeat triptych:

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In other words, at first sight, the suggestion is that the old tree is still alive, looking to grow back to its former glory. But that's not the way nature works. What Shaw must have done is take a photograph shortly after the tree had been cut down in 2008, and use that as the basis for the 2017 painting. The large piece of branch lying on the ground in the right half of the 2017 painting is the indicator of that. I suspect that shortly after the first cut, the person doing the cutting finished off the job by trimming those remaining limbs that protruded from the main trunk.

The fact that the Google Camera shows the tree having not grown an inch from 2008 to 2012, confirms this. Sorry to be so relentless, tree-lovers.

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"And the situation now?" Well, you asked for it. Although there is no Street Level shot after 2015, an aerial view is available from 2017. The gable end is right in the middle of the photo. "And the tree?" Dear reader, it is not there.

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A minute's silence. As Shaw pays his respects to his old friend. Another Minute's Silence, because a minute's silence was paid by the painter when the tree was killed in the first place.

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George Shaw. Another Minute's Silence, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 46 x 55cm

I think there is another dimension to this painting. And to explore that, I'm going to invite Nigel and Boris to this sun-dappled spot.

First up, Nigel. He is going to present the speech Farage gave to the European Parliament in Brussels back in summer 2016, after the UK had voted to leave Europe.

"Funny, isn’t it? When I came here 17 years ago and I said that I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain to leave the EU, you all laughed at me. Well I have to say, you’re not laughing now, are you?

You can sense everyone in Tile Hill stopping in their tracks to listen to the fine orator. He's not reading from an autocue or notes.

"What happened last Thursday was a remarkable result, it was indeed a seismic result, not just for British politics, for European politics but perhaps even for global politics too. Because what the little people did, what the ordinary people did, what the people who have been oppressed over the last few years and see their living standards go down - they rejected the multinationals, they rejected the merchant banks, they rejected big politics and they said, 'actually, we want our country back, we want our fishing waters back, we want our borders back, we want to be an independent self-governing, normal nation and that is what we have done and that is what must happen.'"

A man is peering over the hedge, listening.

"But what I would like to see is a grown-up and sensible attitude to how we negotiate a different relationship. I know that virtually none of you have ever done a proper job in your lives or worked in business or worked in trade or, indeed, ever created a job, but listen, just listen.

Two women are sitting on the log with a dog between them. All appear to be listening.

"We between us, between your countries and my country we do an enormous amount of business in goods and services, that trade is mutually beneficial to both of us, that trade matters – if you were to decide to cut off your noses to spite your faces and reject any idea of a sensible trade deal the consequences would be far worse for you than it would be for us. Even no deal is better for the United Kingdom than the current rotten deal we’ve got, but if we were to move to a position where tariffs were reintroduced on products like motor cars then hundreds of thousands of German workers would risk losing their jobs."

The log ladies manage a quick exchange: "Ever been to Nuremberg?" "Is that where they make tractors these days?"

"Why don’t we just be pragmatic, sensible, grown-up, realistic and let’s cut between us a sensible, tariff-free deal and thereafter recognise that the UK will be your friend, that we will trade with you, we will co-operate with you, we will be your best friends in the world, but do that, do it sensibly and allow us to go off and pursue our global ambitions and future. Thank you." 


Nigel steps back and Boris steps forward to take his place on stage, announcing that he is Prime Minister and that it is his turn to speak, with his thoughts turning to the 31st October, 2019, when he will lead the UK out of Europe, with or without a trade deal.

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George Shaw. Another Minute's Silence, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 46 x 55cm

"And to those who say we cannot be ready, I say do not underestimate this country.

"Do not underestimate our powers of organisation and our determination, because we know the enormous strengths of this economy in life science, in tech, in academia, in music, the arts, culture, the financial services.

"It is here in Britain where we are using gene therapy for the first time to treat the most common form of blindness. Here in Britain we are leaving the world in battery technology which will help cut CO2 and tackle climate change and produce green jobs for the next generation."

Applause starts with a ripple, but soon spreads so that it seems that the very gable end is approving. One big z-z-z sound. Somewhere in between 'Sieg heil' and 'Ziggy Played Guitar'. One log lady turns to her neighbour and says: "What was that he said about battery chickens?"

"And as we prepare for a post-Brexit future, it is time we look not at the risks, but at the opportunities that are upon us. So, let us begin work now to create free ports that will drive growth and thousands of high skill jobs in left behind areas."

Log lady to log lady: "What's a left-behind area?" "Something to do with Jeremy Corbyn?"

"Let’s start now to liberate the UK’s extraordinary bio-science sector from anti-genetic modification rules. And let’s develop the blight resistant crops that will feed the world. Let’s get going now on our own position, navigation and timing satellite and earth observation systems. UK assets, orbiting in space with all the long-term strategic and commercial benefits for this country."

"I thought the Google camera was Trump's." "Yeah, and the poem 'Whitey's on the Moon" was definitely American."

"Let’s change the tax rules to provide extra incentives to invest in capital and research. And let’s promote the welfare of animals that has always been to the hearts of the British people. And yes, let’s start now on those free trade deals, because it is free trade that has done more than anything else to lift billions out of poverty.

"All this and more we can do now, and only now. At this extraordinary moment in our history. And after three years of unfounded self-doubt it is time to change the record. To recover our natural and historic role as an enterprising, outward looking and truly global Britain. Generous in temper and engaged with the world.

"Have you noticed, I'm putting all my dog's shit into this black plastic bag, piece by piece?" "Is that because you love your dog? Or because you love our country?" "It's because I love them both equally."

"No one in the last few centuries has succeeded in betting against the pluck and nerve and ambition of this country. They will not succeed today. We, in this government, will work flat out to give this country the leadership it deserves, and that work begins now."


Looking at the picture again, I'm not sure the above written scene is accurate in tone. Is Shaw's shadow 'tree-figure' not inspired by the triumphant 'tree-figure' rather than heckling it? Should I not go back over the above text with this in mind? No, I think there is deliberate ambiguity there. The shouty little chap could either be yea- or nay-saying.

So I'll leave it at that and move on to the next wonderful picture.



'The Lost of England' is continued here.



Acknowledgements The images of George Shaw’s works on this site are copyright the artist. The artist is represented by Anthony Wilkinson.

'The Lost of England' was an exhibition of George Shaw paintings at Maruani Mercier in autumn, 2017.