A Grim and Bleak Beauty

In Coventry recently for a murder trial (whether as participant or spectator I don’t know — it could just as easily be one as the other), Dalrymple stumbled upon an exhibit of the works of contemporary painter George Shaw, a native of the town, and he writes about the experience in this new essay for the New Criterion (h/t: Colin).
Because Dalrymple thinks mid-Century British architects ruined Coventry, he was surprised to have found beauty and meaning in Shaw’s realistic paintings of the town:
The exhibition was among the most powerful by any living artist that I have ever seen…
…the light and the composition more than compensate for the inspissated hideousness of what is shown, and beauty emerges. Metal panels or blanked-out windows, disfigured (if you can disfigure what is already hellish) by graffiti or daubs of paint that look like dripping blood, become objects of contemplation and—yes—pleasure. He paints leafless trees in the midst of suburban lifelessness against skies that make you think of Atkinson Grimshaw. The poignancy is not unbearable, exactly, but it stops the heart.
The experience also reaffirmed one of Dalrymple’s already strongly-held beliefs, one that could in fact serve as a personal motto: “Everywhere is interesting”.
The Back of the Social Club by George Shaw

5 thoughts on “A Grim and Bleak Beauty

  1. Dan

    Clint, Steve
    I also went to see this exhibition, and took my two young daughters; it opened their eyes to the fact that it is possible to paint something very ugly in a beautiful way. (The area Shaw paints is well-known to my children; my wife’s family is from Coventry and their great-grandmother lives in Tile Hill, along with other family members. It is very ugly.)
    It was actually a Dalrymplistic day in many ways. The day we went was an open day for Coventry University, which is situated around the Herbert Art Gallery. There was a group of students from the university handing out literature and information to prospective students and their parents, and we happened across the sight of three young boys (I’d say they were about seven, my daughters were confident they were around nine, and would be more likely to guess accurately) tormenting one of these students by trying to snatch away his information pack and shouting and swearing at him. It all finished with the boys, one by one, taking a run up and spitting at him from a range of about five feet. After this, they all walked away laughing and sat on a wall about 30 feet away.
    Around the same time, TD wrote a piece about his visit to Coventry in the Spectator, in which he discussed this sort of behaviour, and the general unpleasantness of tree city; the following week the magazine carried a letter from someone living near Coventry objecting to the piece on the grounds that it showed Dalrymple’s ‘snobbery’, and suggesting that Coventry had always been a bit rough around the edges.
    As with a certain monomaniac who frequents this blog from time to time, it was possible to hear the thud of a missed point from some distance away.

  2. Clinton

    We certainly have our share of such places on this side of the pond, Dan. In fact, I have lived in a few of them myself.

    Yes, we have heard that thud around here before, from the monomaniac in question!

  3. Louise

    ‘Replying To:

    ‘We certainly have our share of such places on this side of the pond, Dan. In fact, I have lived in a few of them myself.

    Yes, we have heard that thud around here before, from the monomaniac in question!”

    Believe me, I don’t think you have. Unless you’re residing in some parallel universe in which the Nazis really did manage to develop that intercontinental strategic missile they were working on towards the end of the war.

    Oh, and ask The Greatest Doctor in the Entire Universe about a psychological phenomenon called ‘projection’.


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