Described last year as the 'only artist who can unite England' during the Brexit crisis, George Shaw's paintings of derelict suburban houses and sombre interiors now appear to embody the UK's moment of self-isolation amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Despite the fact that Shaw's paintings are devoid of human life, his paintings capture 'Britishness', proving that our architectural settings and material world shape us as much as we shape them.
Shaw paints the ordinary and mundane – the everyday architectural and urban landscapes surrounding us, which we typically overlook.
But somehow he makes these scenes extraordinary, enhancing their bleakness, while imbuing them with romantic longing.
Born and raised in Coventry, Shaw grew up painting the post-war council estates near his home in the 1970s. He went on to study art at Sheffield Polytechnic followed by the Royal College of Art in the 1990s, where he continued to find inspiration from the suburbia where he was raised.
Reflecting on some of his earlier work such as the painting below, the artist commented: 'this was made when I was a student at the Royal College, it's a painting of the house that I grew up in.'
Memories of childhood and adolescence are infused within his work and have always been central to his practice.
'I wanted to make that journey back home, at a time in a place when things were quite clear, quite sure. Me, working away in the upstairs room, is a memory I am quite fond of... it's quite romantic and sentimental now.'
In 2011, Shaw was shortlisted for the Turner Prize for The Sly and Unseen Day, which showed a luminous yellow sky at dusk, over the sight of his childhood home, the concrete Tile Estate in Coventry.
Although Shaw had no intention of glimpsing into the future, seen from today his work foreshadows the sombre landscape of Britain amid the current pandemic that has gripped the nation.
Derelict streets, empty schools and an ubiquitous sense of foreboding is mirrored by the sinister and almost post-apocalyptic quality of Shaw's works.
The artist once commented about his hometown:
'I don't think it has ever left me, that sense of possibility and familiarity and possible danger lurking out there somewhere beyond. I haunted the place and now it haunts me.'
From where did the artist's inner sense of fear derive? Raised as a Catholic, Shaw's work often uses titles that refer to the Bible or the life of Christ, for him a source of inspiration. For that reason, many of Shaw's works are titled with religious overtones, such as Scenes from the Passion or Ash Wednesday.
Although the human figure is generally absent in Shaw's paintings, they are teeming with the memories and traces of human life.
'The people I grew up with, family, passers-by, they are all in there somewhere, embedded in the paintings.'
His work mediates the experience of home as a place of cloying claustrophobia with a place of warmth and comfort, communicating the memories of his lost childhood and confronting the inevitable passage of time.
Lydia Figes, Content Editor at Art UK