Curator's Choice: George Shaw's The End of Time at the Millennium Gallery Sheffield

By Rowena Hamilton | 18 December 2012
A photo of a young woman looking at an oil painting of a landscape in an art gallery

Curator's Choice: Rowena Hamilton, Exhibition Curator at Museums Sheffield, on George Shaw’s The end of Time, from the Force of Nature: Picturing Ruskin's Landscape show at the Millennium Gallery...

“This painting by George Shaw is from a body of work for which he was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2011.

It’s one of a series of darkly symbolic landscape paintings of the Tile Hill Estate in Coventry, where he grew up.

Shaw’s work sits within a group of Modern and contemporary works which have been brought together to explore some of the areas in which Ruskin’s influence can be seen on subsequent generations of British artists making work about the landscape.

A photo of a dark blue and green oil painting of a bleak industrial urban landscape
George Shaw, The End of Time (2008-2009). Arts Council Collection, Southbank Centre, London© George Shaw
He’s influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite painters, who were closely associated with Ruskin.

The parallels in terms of realism and also using landscape to create narrative and emotional meaning are very apparent.

The End of Time hangs alongside a painting by John Everett Millais from Tate’s collection.

Millais painted The Moon is Up and Yet it is not Night long after his days as a Pre-Raphaelite. Both paintings exploit the uncanny effect of the half-light of dusk to create a sense of drama.

The Humbrol enamel paints which Shaw uses give his paintings a unique surface texture and shine as well as a dark, intense quality to the light and colours.

A photo of a young woman standing next to an oil painting of an urban landscape
These are the same paints that we associate with children painting model kits, so they also carry this potent reminder of childhood. This resonates with Shaw’s choice of his childhood home as a subject.

Variations and developments of the idea of a sense of place recur throughout the exhibition.

For Ruskin, this was a new idea about artists communicating to a viewer how it felt for the artist to be physically there instead of - or as well as - slavishly reproducing the landscape they saw.

For later artists this became more about the spirit of a place. For example Graham Sutherland, who Shaw cites as an influence and his fellow Neo-Romantic artists in the mid-1900s developed and explored this idea of the landscape having a presence, personality and narrative of its own, without the need for characters to populate it.

Shaw’s imagery may appear mundane, but the paintings carry immense emotional charge.

They suggest a story for every quiet, overlooked corner of the landscapes we inhabit: what happened, who stood there, what ended?”

  • Exhibition continues until June 23 2013. Follow the gallery on Twitter @MuseumSheffield.
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