There are so many ways into this painting, I hardly know where to start. So I'll just start with the big, bright, blue, Brexitless sky!

George Shaw. The Visitor, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 92 x 121cm

Regard the shadow in the foreground, which has been cast by the photographer. In Eugenie Shinkle's essay in George Shaw: A Corner of a Foreign Field, she quotes from the painter's email correspondence about how he takes photographs: 'I am overwhelmed by self-consciousness and embarrassment and often have to force myself to get the camera out of my pocket and assume the photographer's stance. I fear the curtain twitcher or the bored youths asking me what the fuck I am doing. The composition of a great deal of my photographs comes about because I keep my distance.' As Shinkle adds, 'the paintings are largely faithful to their photographic sources, reproducing the camera's expanded field of vision and its homogenous ordered space'.

I think the Google camera is less self-conscious than George Shaw, but it also keeps well back. In the following photo, Google catches a glimpse of its own shadow while capturing the setting of
The Old Religions.


I would suggest that Shaw has a hooded coat on in The Visitor. And his own working photograph may well have put him in mind of the David Bowie figure, Thomas Newton, near the beginning of Nicolas Roeg's film, The Man Who fell To Earth. After all, Newton goes on to make a record called The Visitor.

In the still below, Newton, who is an alien, come to Earth from another planet, is familiarising himself with his strange surroundings. It's what we all do as children, explore the outside world. Some people, perhaps artists in particular, never lose that sense of curiosity and challenge. 'Just what is this place? How does it correspond to the places in my dreams? How do I live my one and only life here?'

Nicolas Roeg. Still from The Man Who fell to earth, 1976. Re-used by Nancho in his video to accompany the David Bowie song, 'Subterraneans'.

This scene also brings to mind something that Shaw confesses at the end of his interview with Jeremy Deller. The perspective that 'I live in a nice house in Dartmoor, miles away from anywhere, and I'm painting a shit-hole'. Deller points out that Tile Hill is where he was brought up and so he has the right to paint that. Shaw concludes the conversation with: '
Well, there is a little bit of me that just feels like 'Have I got the right?' Sometimes I feel a bit like a war correspondent, like the person who goes in and leaves all the people dying behind him. But I think deep down I know what I'm doing isn't suspicious or in any way wrong.'

Where is George when painting The Visitor? (I use the present tense because it was such a timeless exercise.) He is at the south west corner of his territory, as shown by the diagram below.


All the garage and house scenes of 'The Lost of England' are located in the big blue circle. While the two views of housing blocks and the two of the old public toilet are outliers to the north and east, respectively. But no 'Lost of England' painting is more of an outlier, geographically, than
The Visitor.

The painter has been here before though. The following Shaw painting shows the same housing at the top left of the composition, with the goalposts of
The Visitor being visible on the right.

George Shaw. Your End, 2010: Humbrol enamel on board. 147x198cm

This is one of those huge paintings that Shaw did for the British Art Show back in 2010.
Your End is a football reference, but also refers to the end of the viewer's life. The suggestion being that when one cannot understand what the youth of today communicate in their tags, one is on the way out. Shaw has carefully recorded the graffiti on the wall. Just as well, because this next Google shot shows the wall to have been reduced to rubble. You can just about make out the still standing goal posts close to the middle of the photo.


Bored youths: "What the fuck are you doing?"

George: "Just preserving your work for posterity."

Bored youths: "You a remainer or a leaver?"

George: "I'm a visitor."

Bored youths: "Seen you before. You're a re-visitor."


I've included another aerial shot, so as to get in the housing block that features in the two Shaw paintings that are separated by seven years and a few yards. By which I mean this:

George Shaw. Your End, 2010: Humbrol enamel on board. 147x198cm and The Visitor, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 92 x 121cm

Or even this:

George Shaw. Your End, 2010: Humbrol enamel on board. 147x198cm and The Visitor, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 92 x 121cm

Youths: "What the fuck, George? Are you Doctor Who?"

Let the current picture gradually reassert itself…

George Shaw. The Visitor, 2017. Enamel on canvas, 92 x 121cm

…Until all I can see is the rope. That's a motif from other Tile Hill pictures. The ropes that were once used as swings, which broke, and then have just been left there. Symbol of what? Lost childhood innocence? Left behind adult angst? Or something more nuanced?

Let's see what a certain pair of politicians make of the situation…

Nigel: "Why don't we hang ourselves?"

Boris: "With what?"

Nigel: "The rope that's right in front of our eyes"

Boris: "Ah, but it's too low."

Nigel: "You could always hang onto my legs."

Boris: "And who'd hang on to mine?"

Nigel: "True."

Boris: "Let's have a look all the same."

George Shaw. The Visitor, 2017. Detail.

Boris: "Might do at a pinch. But is it strong enough?"

Nigel: "We'll soon see."

They pull the rope. It creaks and groans and breaks.

Boris: "Not worth a curse."

Nigel: "I can't go on like this."

Boris: "That's what you think."

Nigel: "If we parted. It might be better for us."

Boris: "We'll hang ourselves tomorrow… Unless Brexit comes."

Nigel: "And if it comes?"

Boris: "We'll be saved."

Nigel: "Well, shall we go?"

Boris: "Pull up your hoodie."

Nigel: "What?"

Boris: "Pull up your hoodie."

Nigel: "You want me to pull down my hoodie?"

Boris: "Pull
UP your hoodie."

Nigel: "Oh, yes!"

Nigel pulls up his hoodie.

Boris: "Well? Shall we go?"

Nigel: "Yes. Let's go."

They do not move.

George Shaw. The Visitor, 2017. Overlain with itself.

I wrote this page in the middle of September, 2019. That is, between the batch of three published at the end of August, 2019 (The Buildings of England, Polling Day and The National Game) and the last three pages that I'm about to write in the second week of October, 2019. But I thought I'd place it as the penultimate essay as it has the neutral tone and timeless feel that I think is a most suitable tribute to this suite of paintings.

The Lost of England: George Shaw, Duncan McLaren and sixty million others. God help us all.

The story continues here.


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.