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Turner Prize nominee on belonging, being and the beauty of The Dolphin

In our interview, Turner Prize nominated George Shaw describes himself as ‘just an ordinary person trying to get through the world’. But in his latest exhibition this local artist proves that he is rather more than ‘ordinary’. 

His exhibition ‘The Local’ references his personal experiences and observations of isolation, loss and belonging. But George also tells us in this interview that Plymouth has a special place in his heart – and one place in particular…somewhere that every Janner may refer to as ‘their local’; The Dolphin.

He also tells us that he hopes that however well Plymouth develops and grows, nothing should ever change its ‘old fashioned’ heart. 

My name is George Shaw. This is my exhibition at The Box in Plymouth called The Local. 

They are mostly paintings of the place in which I was brought up in, in the West Midlands, in Coventry. I’ve been painting that since I was probably well…certainly for the last 25 years.

There are some paintings and drawings of the house, of my family home, which was a council house. It was returned to the council on the death of my mum, so the house we had for probably 50 years is now no longer ‘home’. So we lost that centre a little bit. And then [the exhibition] concludes in a series of paintings of the place which I now call home, which is not far from here, on the east side of Dartmoor.

I suppose I am called a ‘contemporary artist’. I think that just generally means I’m still alive! But I think my work, if you imagine what you might think as contemporary art, my work has a much more friendly aspect to it. Probably!

You don’t really need an art history degree to come and look at my pictures. They’re of landscapes, nothing too difficult about it really. I think part of the things I deal with in my paintings and in the work I make is being just an ordinary person trying to get through the world really. And I think that’s a fairly universal theme. There’s nothing difficult about it whatsoever. It’s like a conversation, really. Conversation in a good pub!

What do you hope for Plymouth as a city?

I hope that a city like Plymouth that, in the want to become progressive and move forward and do all that growth, which is great, that they don’t lose something of the thing that they were; the character of the place really. There’s nothing better when I come to Plymouth, I think, of going down to the front and having a drink in The Dolphin.

And I think that’s what makes it – the very thing that’s grown here. And I think sometimes some of the more ‘cultural elements’ can sometimes be a bit ‘imported in’, so I think it’s important that ,as well as those bits being there, that it gives opportunities for the local things and the old fashioned things to actually grow and get stronger and come to the fore.

George Shaw’s exhibition The Local is on at The Box until 4 Sep 2022. It is open Tuesdays to Sundays and Bank Holidays from 10am-5pm

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