Posted in E X H I B I T I O N S 2 years ago.

The Grosvenor Gallery will be exhibiting a selection of paintings and drawings by Mark Shields at Booth C5 at this year's Art 15 including a recent series of charcoal drawings - 'Once Long Before' - see further details below.

In "The Dream – As She First Appeared to Him” a weary traveller in a rugged and hostile landscape rests for a moment and drowses. His muscular primitive bulk is suggestive of a mythic progenitor, an Adam just come into being or a Jacob halting before an encounter with the wrestling angel so often alluded to in this artist’s work. Or perhaps a Christ figure, a second Adam, tempted in the wilderness or enduring the dark agony before execution. Nothing is certain. Is the woman being dreamt by the resting man or are both figures part of another’s dream? They seem hewn from the rock, the woman’s gesture shadowed in the nearest of the rocky outcrop’s craggy peaks. Is it a gesture of blessing or farewell, of nearness or separation? Like many of the artist’s other pictures, figure and ground seem to slip into one another. The forms in the  landscape evoke the construction of the figures. Repeated positive and negative shapes throughout strongly indicate the interconnectedness of the natural world and perhaps suggest the existence of such correspondences between dream and ‘reality’ also. Like so many of these chalky fragmented pictures made around the same time, a Creation narrative is suggested. The figures have seemingly been generated from the earth itself. Man yearns the Woman into existence, yet the Woman seems to prefigure Man in a kind of visionary form. She seems to both float from above and grow up out of the earth/Man at the same time. An active vertical principle to Man’s horizontal stasis. Both remain eternally hinged in the tender touch of toe with toe.

This simultaneous weighty gravity and upward potential is also present in "Rising II”. Originally painted as a companion to a painting of Lazarus being raised from the dead,  this woman has her precedents in the often depicted bather narratives of Bathsheba, Susanna and even the Gopis of Indian miniatures, though here she seems unconcerned by the presence of the viewer/voyeur. She is seductive yet remote. The gesture itself is contradictory. At once naturalistic and artificial. A ritual drama being enacted. An initiation? A baptism? The tension of the invisible upward pull of the body combined with the heavy limp arms is palpable and articulated in the woman’s equivocal expression. The right side of her face is resigned and melancholy, the left  side engaged and purposeful. The reflected hand, so important in the composition, may also hold a key to the picture’s disquiet, for as well as acting as a retreating reflection of the rising hand it seems also to be reaching up of its own will to take the bather’s  hand back to itself. This near-touch represents the in-between space in which the acceptance or rejection of some obscure destiny is decided.

The unclothed females in these pictures are literally stripped of any associations. While rarely overtly sexual, they often combine a sensual presence with a kind of primordial openness. When clothed, the figures, both male and female, seem to wear garments of no fixed time or place, continuing to make associations  problematic. More often than not their clothes seem to be of a symbolic order. This is very directly the case in a group of pictures painted in 2010 and referred to as the Folk Dress Series. Again mostly young women, these figures appear almost like manikins in their awkward, seemingly petrified poses. From very early on, the artist was drawn to folk customs connected with the seasons and foretelling future events, particularly to those peoples and customs of eastern Europe, perhaps because in the popular imagination this region more readily accepts the intervention of the supernatural in the natural course of events. These ideas and beliefs are inextricably linked with the designs and patterns of the folk costumes, shapes and motifs to ward off evil, procure Divine protection, ensure future well-being, etc. The faces of these folk dress figures gaze not at the viewer but past or through him as though glimpsing something further ahead, some intuition of future events. Their titles evoke an interior life and a tutelary role. They remain detached as the saints of icons.

They share this unworldliness with the figures of the recent ‘Host’ series. Again often dressed ambiguously or anachronistically, their gaze is perhaps  more inward and often, as in "Wounded Ballerina” and "Secret Things” they seem to bear a secret wound, representative perhaps of the woundedness of the whole world. There are literary connections with both of these pictures. While the girl who inspired Rilke’s ‘Sonnets to Orpheus’ was a singer who died tragically young, she is re-imagined here as a ballerina. The image of the wounded ballerina  presented itself while the artist  worked on collages. The "Secret Things” picture pays a kind of homage to the introspective female poets/writers of the 19th century, often patronised and misunderstood by the male establishment but in the fullness of time recognised for a penetrating clairvoyance. Emily Dickinson, Christina Rosetti, Amalie Skram, Selma Lagerlof, Edith Sodergran and many others. There is a reverberation in these pictures  too with the Annunciation to the Virgin. A miraculous incarnation, inward wondering, the disbelief of the scandalized outside world, the wound that brings healing. Also, thoughts are not far from the visionary female mystical tradition, Hildegard, Julian of Norwich, Angela da Foligno.

If folk tales, myths, legends and fables, worlds where the invisible realm of the spirit is sensed,  are close to the surface in these paintings, the "Once Long Before” series of charcoal drawings makes a very direct connection. These images hover between the comical and the disturbing. They may be arranged in any order to form a disconcerting and disrupted narrative from  the ‘other side’. A narrative which could just as easily take place in a few seconds, like the lightning parade of images projected in our mind’s eye on the verge of sleep, or during the course of one fateful night, or perhaps over millennia. The phrases accompanying each image are taken at random from a child’s book of nature stories. Once paired with the images their interpretation naturally becomes ambiguous and suggestive. A timeless realm of the fantastical, a kind of jostling storehouse of humankind’s mythical subconscious opens up. The ‘story’ endlessly begins over. As Alberto Manguel would have it, "...every story alluding to or suggesting another somewhere underneath it, none allowing itself to stand as the ultimate truth.”