George Shaw on the story behind his painting The New Romantic

George Shaw discusses his painting The New Romantic (2016-2020), which features in the Hayward Gallery exhibition Among the Trees

George Shaw The New Romantic, 2016-2020 Humbrol enamel on canvas Courtesy Anthony Wilkinson Gallery © the artist
George Shaw, 'The New Romantic', 2016-2020. Humbrol enamel on canvas. Courtesy Anthony Wilkinson Gallery © the artist

‘The painting got called The New Romantic mainly because I thought it was a hugely romantic gesture. The heart on the tree went through three stages. When I first saw that tree it had a swastika, in luminous green hi-vis paint. The swastika was painted out by a luminous green heart, and then someone came along and painted the heart silver. So it had a really sort of romantic, graceful defeat of evil going on in it. That sounds quite 20th-century, it also sounds quite fairytale-like. 

‘The title was also a nod towards the whole Romantic movement in literature and painting from the 18th century, and to Wordsworth and all those boys, and the resurgence of romance during the war period with painters like Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland. But also to a whole subculture of people, round about the 1980s, dressing up and listening to David Bowie or Visage and calling themselves, or being called, New Romantics. 

‘There’s something about subcultures and teenagers that the woods were very attractive to. Quite often, instead of people wearing barbour jackets, and dogs, you would find skinheads or punks sitting in the woods, listening to music, drinking cans, smoking, and just generally getting up to their lives out of the sight of grownups. 

‘I’ve always found that there’s something quite beautiful about these characters in the woods, almost like something from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’


Among the Trees is at Hayward Gallery until 31 October. 

The exhibition is open on Wednesday – Saturday, 11am – 7pm and Sunday, 10am – 6pm; and closed on Monday and Tuesday. You must book online before visiting.

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