Art That Raises Questions; FAMILY Memories Figure Prominently in New Exhibitions at Baltic, as DAVID WHETSTONE Discovere D

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FOR many people, art equals paintings and particularly paintings of easily recognisable things.

It's not a universal view nor even necessarily a fashionable view - younger people tend to be more accommodating and adventurous - but it is a view that has been aired regularly since Baltic opened in 2002.

Now we have a whole floor devoted to the work of George Shaw, an up-and-coming artist who paints what he sees with startling clarity.

The question this exhibition raises is not so much "What does it mean?" as "Why did he paint it?" Amateur artists who flock to Beamish or the Coquet might wonder at these shiny, photo-realistic pictures of down-at-heel suburban Britain.

There are walls covered in graffiti, uneven flagstones, untidy corners, bent railings, grotty underpasses and tidy but cheap-looking 1960s and 70s-era homes.

It is actually Coventry, where the artist grew up, but it could be a thousand places. It is authentic modern Britain rather than the heritage Britain preserved and packaged and sold to tourists.

If there seems to be a sinister edge to this show, it's possibly because places like these tend only to feature in the media when there's been a crime.

Apparently someone asked the artist on preview night if anything nasty had ever happened to him in a particularly ugly concrete underpass.

"No," he replied. "But I do remember my dad sitting there and having a smoke."

The paintings reflect Shaw's nostalgia for his childhood and his late father, ordinary though they may have been.

Ordinariness never gets celebrated or listed by English Heritage. In the fulness of time it falls down or is swept away. So arguably this is an important body of work and George Shaw performing a valuable service. …


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