Simon Shaw and the digital art of Croydon

By - Wednesday 24th September, 2014

Liz Sheppard-Jones considers the digital beauty of Croydon with photographer and artist Simon Shaw

‘I like blocky things’: part of the Simon Shaw exhibition in the ClickClock Gallery, Katharine Street, Croydon.
Photo by Simon Shaw, used with permission.

It’s fascinating to meet someone who shares your experiences, yet draws diametrically opposed conclusions from them. I had a really interesting talk with digital artist and photographer Simon Shaw.

Surely a Simon Shaw selfie?
Image by Simon Shaw, used with permission.

We meet on the first day of his sixteen week exhibition at the ClickClock Gallery in Katharine Street, Central Croydon. He’s a Croydonian, born in Thornton Heath and a former pupil at Elmwood Road Junior School but these days transplanted to Hastings, although he commutes to London daily to work in his day job, as a self-employed property renovator. It’s creative work – that’s why he enjoys it. But it’s not what fulfils him.

‘Dancing in the shadows’
Photo by Simon Shaw, used with permission.

“There was always something missing in my life”, Simon explains to me. Feeling himself for many years an artist without a medium – pre-occupied with images and the desire to metamorphosise them, yet not a gifted painter or sketcher – it was the discovery of digital processing that released his vision.

It happened after he broke his foot in a relatively minor accident whilst renovating a house. Three months at home with the foot up turned from nuisance to opportunity as he decided to teach himself Photoshop.

He was already a trained and qualified photographer and commercial photography, mostly property-related, is another string to his bow. These days, he is able to combine technical skill behind a camera, an artist’s ability to see things newly and differently, and the techniques of digital image manipulation to create the pieces in his exhibition.

This exhibition is his second at the ClickClock and follows his exhibition at Respire in Hastings. Amidst images of architecture, flowers and abstracts, my favourites are those of buildings: digital art, belonging so completely to the 21st century, is a powerful medium through which to depict and transform the modern, the angular and the un-traditional. Next, Simon has his eyes on gallery space in Central London – something that exposure at the Click Clock can help with as its reputation grows on websites such as Spoonfed London.

‘Bending the light’ – art in its rightful place.
Image by Simon Shaw, used with permission.

He values the digital world in other ways too, and regularly shares his thoughts and ideas with other artists on a photography website called Ugly Hedgehog. The contacts he has made there are a real source of support: “we share inspiration”, he tells me, “and bounce off ideas”. This I can readily imagine – he’s warm and engaged, willing to share his thoughts and filled with infectious enthusiasm for what he is doing. Connections he has made on this site influence him and he them, he believes – membership of a real artistic community made possible in the wonderful age of the internet.

So he dreams of giving up the day job and working as an artist, of course? Actually – no.

“I never want my artwork to become a chore,” he explains. “Freedom to create is the most valuable thing to me – if work pleases me, it’s satisfying and if it pleases others, that’s a bonus.” He doesn’t want art to become his bread-and-butter – the thing he must do to survive. “I would never want my creative work to become this way. If I have to do it, it won’t work. How can you create if you don’t enjoy it? I don’t think it’s possible.”

I bristle a bit at this statement of Simon’s: he’d soon see things differently, I think to myself, if the day job was a grind. Then I realise that it’s his wise choices which have freed him both to work with enjoyment and to create with freedom. His conclusion is greatly to his credit.

‘Empty Croydon office block’
Image by Simon Shaw, used with permission.

And indeed, Simon does use day-to-day working life as inspiration. His artwork ‘Bending the lights’ was created in the kitchen of a house he was working on, where he had just installed spotlights. Seeing the opportunity in the image as he has since his teens, he pointed his camera at the ceiling and by moving it through a two second exposure created a pattern, then adjusted it in Photoshop CS5. Having added colours and lighting, he turned it into a kalide – four copies of the same image linked together to make a symmetrical pattern – before adding some final digital tweaks.

For me this is art in its rightful place – not remote and faraway in the millionaires’ row that Central London is becoming as superwealth hollows out our once-vibrant city, but slap in the middle of ordinary life, making it extraordinary.

Returning to the modern and angular, I bought one of the photos. Entitled ‘Empty Croydon office block’ (if only I could buy one of those!) it finds beauty in the urban, the hard-edged, the gritty – the beauty of Croydon itself. When I comment rather artlessly of the photo that “I like blocky things,” Simon replies with a smile, “Cubist.” He’s pretty smart, you see.

You can see Simon Shaw’s digital artwork in the ClickClock Gallery, Katharine Street, until 3rd January 2015. Admission is free and opening hours are 9:30am–5:30pm Monday to Friday and 9:30am–5:00pm on Saturdays.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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