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Your Space Or Mine

GOD SAVE THE TEAM: Artist Corbin Shaw takes on Euro 2024

The cross of Saint George, a Turkish-born Roman soldier who died in Palestine, flutters above churches, dangles from pub ceilings and flaps from car windows across England.

Its distance covered grows for a few weeks every year or so, depending on whether or not a team bearing Three Lions upon chests is participating in the latest major football tournament. This summer, as Gareth Southgate leads another squad of players to another major finals at Euro 2024, you can safely predict an increase in expected flags – and not just because patriotism-slash-nationalism tends to get turned up a notch.

Sheffield-born artist Corbin Shaw has been using England flags as his canvas for a while now, and with the help of BUILDHOLLYWOOD’s Your Space Or Mine project and their billboards, his take on St George’s Cross will adorn city streets up and down the nation.

Its use is not about reclaiming the flag, but rather using it as a “Trojan Horse” to deliver messages about national identity and masculinity. “It’s quite abrasive,” he says, chatting to us during a trip to Marseilles – a city that felt the sharp end of this cross during the World Cup in 1998. “It’s got a lot of history in colonialism and right-wing nationalism and I wanted to use it, overt that and juxtapose it.”


Words by Greg Stanley

Corbin’s work aims to challenge and reflect on what England represents today—its diversity, its people, and the often-fragile notions of masculinity that pervade its culture. Growing up in Yorkshire, his art has been strongly influenced by his surroundings—pubs, gyms, and football matches. These familiar scenes are imbued with the rituals and symbols of traditional masculinity, which Shaw deconstructs in his work.

His interest in these themes started early in his career, driven by personal experiences and a desire to express his identity in ways that words could not. His early exposure to contemporary art at a local gallery – and more importantly encouragement from Mum and Dad – inspired him to explore art and eventually celebrate and critique the cultural norms he grew up with.

The flags and the billboards play into Corbin’s commitment to making art accessible to others. His pieces are not only seen by those who frequent galleries but also by people in everyday settings such as online, where his Instagram page acts as a constantly evolving scrapbook of his work. His collaboration with BUILDHOLLYWOOD takes that access a step further, parading his work in physical, public spaces, much like the flags in question.

In a time when national identity and cultural norms are hotly debated, Corbin Shaw’s art provides commentary on these issues in a way that’s somehow light-hearted but heavy-hitting. Poignant but never pretentious. Happily and laboriously, we discussed all of the above.


What sort of access to art did you have growing up? Did you know that you wanted to be an artist from early on?

I knew I wanted to be an artist from really young because my mum would sit me down and make me draw to calm me down. I then developed the skill of being able to draw and I got really good at drawing The Simpsons characters from a book. My mum and dad have always encouraged me to do what I want to do and I’m really lucky for that. It was all I wanted to to do and I wasn’t very good at writing so using my hands to make visual things was the only way I knew how to express myself, really.

I pursued it by going from Sheffield to Leeds College of Art and then down to London to study it at Saint Martin’s (Central Saint Martin’s, University of the Arts London). I always knew I wanted to do something creative. 

What art or other artists have influenced you?

There was a gallery in Sheffield that had a contemporary room and it had a Damien Hirst in it and also a Grayson Perry. I think it was a tapestry of all these words and phrases that looked like bank notes and had loads of British references and phrases. I never knew art could be like that.

I read a book by Grayson Perry at Uni as well and that’s when a lot of my ideas and theories about masculinity came through as I could apply them to my own experiences of growing up in Sheffield. Stuff like going to watch football with my Dad, going to pubs, going to boxing. I started to reflect on my own life in a different way and think about the art I’d grown up around – like flags on the terraces (at football matches) and the ones we had made to take to Wembley or wherever else we’d go on buses.

Your work captures Northern Englishness masculinity specifically, why is this so important to you?

Because at home up North is where I became so acutely aware of the way boys look at other boys and how obsessed they are with each other. How they dress, how they talk and how they walk. Their dads and how they think about the man that they are. Is that the man they want to be?

The first artwork I made at university was an interview with my dad talking about his relationship to his dad and how he went through all these rites of passage. Some things he took on board and some things he didn’t, and so when he brought me up, he felt like he filled the spaces that his father didn’t. Being softer, showing physical affection. My dad didn’t have that growing up and I think that really affected him (which came across in the interview project).

And there was language that I’d heard from him that I didn’t agree with, so I started to use flags with the St George’s Cross on as my canvas to write these messages to my dad. The first one said ‘Soften Up, Hard Lad,’ a reaction to him using the term ‘soft’ and fearing me ‘looking soft.’

How do you strike a balance between poking fun and saying something really poignant? Is there a tightrope you have to walk in that sense?

It’s kind of part of the British identity not to take ourselves too seriously. Sometimes when I’m making things I think ‘What would agitate a certain type of audience?’ Then I think about why and if it does agitate people, what does that say about fragile masculinity or national identity?

I put a lot of care into the things I do, because a lot of the subjects I do care a lot about and I’m a part of them myself. I make these things from a bit of a distance, but I’m also involved in them myself, so I’m poking fun at myself and at England. I’m trying to pop it’s ego.


There’s a lot of looking back to another era in your work. Particularly the 90s and early 2000s. What is one main difference between our culture from now and then that informs your work? 

A lot of the work I’ve made feels very 90s and 2000s-focused because that’s when I grew up. I grew up with a lot of newspapers and a lot of telly. I didn’t grow up in a house full of books on philosophy and art and novels, it was newspapers that my dad took home from work, or watching TV or listening to music in the car.

There was this pantomime of masculinity that was kicking off back then – like the Gallagher brothers and Loaded Magazine that promoted this idea of football, booze and girls. It was quite a gross caricature of male Englishness, but people do touch back on that as a point of reference and it’s something we need to analyse and get rid of.

Do you think it’s important to reclaim the St George’s Cross?

I wouldn’t use the word reclaim. For me, it’s a Trojan Horse thing. It’s a canvas for me to write these phrases on. It’s quite abrasive. It’s got a lot of history in colonialism and right-wing nationalism and I wanted to use it, overt that and juxtapose it. I want to point the finger at what England is now. Who’s in it, what makes it, who built it and what parts of it I am actually proud of. Like those boys in the England team and how relatable they are.

What can we do to make it more accessible for the next generation of artists to come from all kinds of backgrounds?

A lot of my mission is to democratise art. I worked at a gallery in the past where the work had to be above a certain price point, and I decided to leave. It’s just me and my girlfriend now who is my manager and assistant. That decision allowed me to make whatever I wanted: flags, canvases, sculptures, t-shirts, prints, whatever.

I like to bring people into galleries who have maybe never been there or have never seen themselves represented in the work. I think it’s important the way it’s written about and spoken about, too. I don’t want it written about in some conflated art jargon.

How does the community in Sheffield respond to your art, and what kind of feedback have you received from locals? 

There’s so much content coming out of London and about London that I’ve always wanted to talk about my upbringing and my city and do it positively. So often when people speak about these areas, they don’t put them in a good light. We did the project with Fred Perry recently which was my love letter to Sheffield and how beautiful it is, how beautiful the people are and how they make it what it is.

I’ve got a lot of nice messages from the people of Sheffield, especially about the ‘Heaven as in Sheffield’ work I did. It’s a huge part of who I am and will always be, for as long as I know.

How do you see the art scene in Sheffield evolving, and what role do you hope to play in it?

The art scene in Sheffield is massively evolving. New spaces are opening up that I either didn’t know about or weren’t there when I was growing up. Yorkshire in general is a real hub. There’s a lot of great art from there and there’s a great future. I’d like to see more galleries open up, too.

How did your move to London impact your work?

It was the first time I had moved away from home so I was able to contrast my lived experience at home with London. Also being as Saint Martin’s, I didn’t really feel like a lot of people there understood how I felt and how I had grown up. Only then, having moved to London, could I understand how I had grown up and started to understand our culture in terms of mining and football.

I got imposter syndrome at art school, almost like I shouldn’t be there. I didn’t think I belonged there. I didn’t know that I could make work about myself. I didn’t know what was mundane to me was interesting to someone else. Suddenly it all made sense, but only after leaving.


How would you define London’s cultural landscape? And how do you see it evolving over the next few years?

I know I live there, but it’s so vast that it’s hard to pin down and define it. It’s probably going to become even tougher as it’s so expensive. Maybe a lot of artists might move and the spotlight could move somewhere else. Speaking for myself, I can see myself having to leave in the next five to ten years as it’s hard to live and work here. There are loads of empty buildings owned by foreign investors, it’s really sad. London’s incredible, but it’s being ruined.

Your work is being displayed on billboards across multiple cities in England. How do you hope people will react?

The project started after Euro 2020 after the penalty defeat to Italy in the final. I wanted to show support for Saka, Rashford and Sancho, the guys who missed their penalties. They feel like boys you went to school with. Gareth Southgate has built a team that reflects the nation and its diversity. ‘GOD SAVE THE TEAM’ is about treating the lads as humans, remembering that when the eventual elimination from the tournament comes, we need to protect them.

It’s about everyone looking after each other, not just in football but in general. Especially in these times of referendums, awful Tory parties and awful Labour parties, it’s important to look after one another. And these boys, this England team, is one of the very few things you can point to as a form of national pride.

And finally, perhaps the most important question of all, who’s your favourite England player of all time?

It’s so hard to answer as I like players for different reasons – and reasons that aren’t always to do with football and more about what they do, what they say and who they are I was obsessed with David Beckham growing up. I copied all of his haircuts and tried to copy his outfits – and still look out for outfits even now.

Personality-wise, from the current era I love who Jack Grealish is. He is obviously so gifted but is so daft. In the same way, I would love someone like Paul Gascoigne who had this gift from God but was just a human being with problems, bad mental health and no help.

But I’ll just go with Beckham. Sorry I know that’s really boring.

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