Saturday, 1 March 2014

Mark Shields: Host

Mark Shields is one of my favourite contemporary artists, and it's always a joy to go to a new show of his work to see which direction his art has taken since his last exhibition. His work is in a state of constant evolution and it is interesting to see the stylistic shifts his work has taken since his first exhibition at the Grosvenor gallery which I saw a long time ago as a student, to his new work currently on show there. Constants appears to be an underlying thread of spirituality, narrative, and a love of the human figure.

For this new exhibition (Host),which is split across two galleries, Shields has completed a set of 99 paintings of a single figure on muslin, each 5ft by 2ft in size. Shields looks as though he has been channeling the spirit of Roualt and Leger in some of the paintings and I feel that the figures seem restricted by the size imposed on them. It would have been interesting to see some of the figures break out of their confined, restricted format and developed into larger scale narrative compositions like in some of his previous work. They are of archetypes and seemed to me like figures adapted from Tarot cards, or Byzantine altar-cloths.

Shields states of this new series - "In early 2012 I had been combining collage and paint and ended up sticking patches of muslin over the paintings to allow quick changes to be made. The texture reminded me of the painted linen shrouds from Egypt, and I decided to work directly onto roughly cut muslin fragments with diluted oil paint. 

The ghosts and traces of disintegrating, overlaid images made me think of the image as a residue of an almost ritual act rather than as the result of mere picture-making. This and perhaps associations with the Turin shroud and embroidered Byzantine altar-cloths led to the painting of full scale figures on narrow sections of cloth. It seemed natural that there should be a large number of these and that the number should be incomplete to evoke a perpetual search. 

For me they seemed to document moments of doubt, anxiety, revelation, gratitude and so on. A primitive and emblematic 'Host' of witnesses having their origins in real life, but interlaced with literary, cultural and historical references of personal resonance. I thought of them almost as icons acting as go-betweens or entry points to invisible realities".

Host: Recent Paintings by Mark Shields
14 February - 7 March 2014
Grosvenor Gallery, 21 Ryder Street, London SW1
Browse & Darby, 19 Cork Street, London W1