Ah the Turner prize. The Oscars of the art world. I didn’t quite dream about it as a kid, mainly because I was far too focused on other important matters like listening to Boyzone’s new album. Besides, the Turner Prize only really came into popular culture with the help of the YBA’s in the 90’s. Most notably Damien Hurst (shudder) in 1995 and Tracy Emins ‘My Bed’ in 1999 where she exhibited her dishevelled unmade bed; dirty underwear and condoms included. Probably the funniest part of her exhibition was when two random artists decided to jump on her bed, strip and have a pillow fight in order to take her art further! They titled their piece “Two naked men jump into Tracy’s bed” I’d like to imagine Emin found this funny, but I could be wrong.
This year’s Turner Prize nominees include Karla Black, Hilary Lloyd, Martin Boyce and George Shaw. The person I’ve got my money on is George Shaw. A traditionalist painter by most standards, he is an unusual choice for the Turner Prize. Instead of oil paint though, Shaw uses humbrol enamel paint. The kind of paint used by 10 year old boys to paint their model airplanes. He paints humdrum and often depressing looking scenes from the outskirts of his hometown of Coventry. Shaw is obsessed with time passing and the loss of childhood. His work is nostalgic and often sentimental. This is what struck me as unusual.
Going through art education, ‘sentimental’ was always something we were vehemently told to steer away from. It was always a negative adjective. Too full of emotion and subjectivity. In many ways this is why Tracy Emin is both loved and hated in equal measure. I feel a little embarrassed to like her work. It was her brashness and truthfulness that made her famous but within the art world many consider it vulgar and unrelentless in its loudness. Shaw, however, has managed to use sentiment in a quiet and understated way. He confronts the bleakness of the passing of time. Many of his paintings are of abandoned in-between areas, but for Shaw these are the places he played in as a child, the places he grew up in and is still fond of. Shaw says: “It was – there’s no other way to put it – a nice place to grow up”
Adrian Searles video on the Guardian’s website discusses and interacts with all of the Turner Prize nominees work – have a look!