I sense that Shields’s process dominates the image by piercing intention with invention and chance. Reminiscent of John Cage. By “herding “creation, principle and belief together.
Shields named this exhibition The Inaccessible Land … quoting Georg Buechner’s ” beyond the endless searching” (on the recto page – opposite illustration frontispiece on the left page of the cover of the catalogue. )
Indira Raman revisits that search “…wondering whether the transience of our satisfaction may not in fact be inescapable and instead may reveal an inevitable aspect of the way the brain works, the understanding of which might provide a clue to how to contend with it”(accessed on http://nautil.us/issue/58/self/unhappiness-is-a-palate_cleanser?mc_cid=4139722249&mc_eid=220fe9547f)
Riann Coulter opens her excellent catalogue essay precisely with a contrast of two experiences citing Camus’s analysis of the myth of Sisyphus: struggle and happiness.
As a curator, she achieved a calm and measured display for most of the artist’s output of the last four years, seducing the space and light to mellow the strictness of black frames of most of the series. She spoke of more art left behind in the studio. Reminiscent of the Gustave Moreau house in Paris overflowing with multitudes, and which Shields visited as a student.
Indeed the connectivity is a necessary part of Shields exploratory strategies.
Riann Coulter cites Shields making connections e.g. to his garden, to Ernst Shackleton’s crossing of Antarctica as support for his painterly process (p6). Thus framing Shields’s art between observation of his being in the world, and multiple sources of other people’s beliefs and knowledge, and the will to embody a visual thought in prints and painting.
In this exhibition there are also five arte povera/brutalist low reliefs “Plaques” made of found wood, white plaster, nails, rust and board. The one below assuming the appearance of a funerary relief, and all related to one person each, meant as markers of their deaths.
Death appears a powerful subject also in the large paintings, even if each professes different subject matter. Their surfaces are tactile blind, after layers and layers of activities, as if caressed with whole palms while gradually closing eyes.
Sensitively- they hold that last breath – before closing eyes for good. Like found fossils they hold truth and challenge my power to unearth it. I see only the last layer that is allowed to tell me very little about the life under its surface.
John Hutchinson has contributed an essay On Dust, Dance and Transcendence to the catalogue – a marvel of different associations and sources, pointing to sameness they harbour with Shields’s art practice: Heisenberg, Schroedinger, Tantraloka, Strindberg, Rilke, Kleist …
As one way to achieve the state of grace/transcendence he points out that”…for Rilke (as for his predecessors, the German Romantics), death presents us with a direct means of transcendence as it allows us to lose the self-consciousness and physical limits that separate us from unified existence.” (p11)
And then he corrects any possible power of transcendence by citing the end of Rilke’s Elegies where the poet thinks of more pressing task: to transform the sorrow and pain of human existence into an aesthetic experience. (p12)
I sense a parallel here to Shields’s resolve to make the existential fear mute and invisible. His painted surface stays eloquent in a strange disobedience. He may have freed consciousness from the visibility, but not from a visual thought that zooms on hues, tonality, brushstrokes. It is physical, and it is wiggling out of physical means to be measured. Similar to Rothko’s paintings making people cry. I hasten to add: it is not the story, it is a thought. Hence, I find Hutchinson’s reference to H von Kleist’ On the Marionette Theatre to work as a valid parallel to Shields funerary subjects. Moreover, taking his penultimate paragraph leads to the rest of the exhibition:
“Grace appears most purely in that human form which either has no consciousness or an infinite consciousness.” (p14)
I have in mind In Principio.
Shields adds The Poem of Job, its first line governs the set.
Where is the path to the source of light?
That question embodies one of the pathways through the seven days of creation, as Shields moves images from saturation by charcoal to its vapourised state – as if.
…path to the source of light” not ..of the source of light.
On day one of Creation, in the first of 49 images(above) the light is somewhere behind the horizons. Blocked. Has it not been created, yet ? …”how could I ever find the answer?”
Then, the seventh image of the seventh day introduces grace of – what looks like a dry tree, winter leafless branch, blade of grass, a dancer’s silhouette ( that Kleist’s Marionette?) – ballet of resolution.
And the light – its white hue relentlessly dominates also the largest two paintings in the installation The Tables of Law I and II.
Naturally the progression includes the Tao – The Way, twelve small woodcut prints.
Actually – this particular image which I downloaded from the web page is not exhibited. A very similar one is: what is on the left shifted to the right and vice versa. A sign that Shields still feels free to cherish a chance in preference to discipline. My favourite from this set, is the tri colour one for its anthropological association and sheer prettiness.
The frenzy of “divine love” gave birth to red set of energy boxed in right angles: twenty small abstract fields are given an archaic title “ Revelations of Divine Love”. And no. There is no logical sequence or narrative order – each just confidently burst in a given rectangle as if on its own, privileged to share a secret.
The Inaccessible Land is also a summary name for 30 slightly bigger paintings, that cherish colours – multicolours, any colour. Even saccharine pink so loved by rococo painters appears above a mere guess of a landscape.
Hidden words, or just letters – how have they descended on that paper? How have they managed to stay on, and stay legible behind that milky mist? It looks more like a watercolour than an oil – however, these light washes were nurtured by painters since Middle Ages needed them for Nativities . ( And the white aperture in the sky looks to me like a baby in nappies… …am I forgiven?)
There is so much more in this exhibition that feels like celebration of visual thinking. The ideologies cheerfully gave way.
Images courtesy Mark Shields, accessed on http://www.markshieldsartist.com/exhibitions/the_inaccessible_land.html