Shawcross studies at Bolton College of Art from 1955 to 1958, and Lancaster College of Art from 1958 to 1960, before moving to Belfast in 1962 to take up a part-time lecturer’s post at the Belfast College of Art, becoming full-time in 1968. He continues to lecture there until his retirement in 2004.
Primarily a portrait painter, his subjects include Nobel Prize winning poet Seamus Heaney, novelist Francis Stuart (for the Ulster Museum), former Lord Mayor of Belfast David Cook (for Belfast City Council), footballer Derek Dougan and fellow artists Colin Middleton and Terry Frost. He also paints the figure and still life, taking a self-consciously childlike approach to composition and colour. His work also include printmaking, and he has designed stained glass for the Ulster Museum and St. Colman’s Church, Lambeg, County Antrim.
Shawcross’s academic career includes a residency at Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Amherst, Virginia in 1987, a residency at Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont in 1991, and a visiting assistant professorship at Pennsylvania State University in 1993.
Shawcross 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.
Shawcross is elected an Associate of the Royal Ulster Academy of Art in 1975, and is made a full Academician in 1977. He wins the Academy’s Conor Award in 1975, its gold medal in 1978, 1982, 1987, 1994, 1997 and 2001, and its James Adam Prize in 1998. He is also a member of the Royal Hibernian Academy (RHA). He is awarded the Gallaher Portrait Prize in 1966.
Shawcross is conferred an honorary doctorate by Queen’s University Belfast in 2007. He is appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2014 New Year Honours for services to arts in Northern Ireland.
In 2010, the Merrion Hotel, Dublin, hosts a private collection of the works of Shawcross. In 2015, he exhibits a collection of six foot tall book covers inspired by original Penguin paperbacks at the National Opera House in Wexford, County Wexford. In 2018, he donates to Belfast City Council a collection of 36 paintings dedicated to ‘Writers of Belfast’ in a show of appreciation to his adopted home city. A major retrospective of his works are exhibited at the F. E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio, Banbridge, County Down, in the same year.