Born in Lancashire in 1940, Shawcross entered a junior Art School in Bolton in 1953 at the tender age of thirteen. He continued his studies at Bolton College of Art (1955-1958) until he was eighteen. Since Bolton did not offer a specialist painting program he finished his studies at Lancaster College of Art in 1960.
Neil Shawcross works out of the painterly tradition, set and developed by artists at the beginning of the 20th century. One can detect various modernist artists he admires and who have influenced him – Matisse, Bonnard and Duffy among them. However, another important source of influence on his practice, for some four decades now, is children’s drawing. There is also his enduring interest in the theatre.
In 1962 he came to Belfast as a part-time lecturer at the then Belfast College of Art and became full-time at the Ulster College of Art and Design in 1968. The following year he exhibited at the RUA for the first time, and in 1975 won the Academy’s Conor Award. He then proceeded to win the Academy’s Gold Medal no fewer than five times, between 1978 and 1997. He was made an academician in 1978, and, more recently, an associate member of RHA in 2002.
Shawcross is particularly admired for his portraits, which often appear ingenuous and child-like, despite the artist’s rigorous training. Major commissions include portraits of fellow artist Colin Middleton (q.v.), novelist Frances Stuart (now in the Ulster Museum), and Alderman David Cook for the Lord Mayor’s Gallery at the Belfast City Hall. He also paints figures and still life, taking a self-consciously childlike approach to composition and colour. His work also includes printmaking, and he has designed stained glass for the Ulster Museum and St. Colman’s Church, Lambeg, County Antrim.
He has exhibited nationally, with one-man shows in London, Manchester, Dublin and Belfast, and internationally in Hong Kong and the United States, and his work is found in many private and corporate collections.
He lives in Hillsborough, County Down.