Stuart Shils: Chasing the Sky
Tibor de Nagy Gallery
724 Fifth Avenue
at 57th Street
212 262 5050
December 2, 2004 – January 8, 2005
Stuart Shils is an artist both of great refinement and dramatic emotion. His recent paintings at Tibor de Nagy were done in Ballycastle, on the wild northern coast of County Mayo, under the auspices of The Ballinglen Arts Foundation. He has painted there every summer for the last ten years, each time returning with a hauntingly beautiful body of work.
His landscapes dwell on the uncertain border between representation and abstraction; increasingly, they cross into pure suggestion. Landscape is inseparable from scenery; yet scenes all but dissolve, Turner-like, in these modestly scaled oils. In their place is something more elusive, harder to evoke: the mood of a locale and the temper of its weather. With each successive show, Mr. Shils reveals himself as a poet of atmosphere.
Paintings are small, never more than 12 by 14 inches. In part, the size accommodates the demands of travel. At the same time, it is absolutely right for the intimacy of Mr. Shils’ response to fugitive conditions of light and mist. As he admits: “In a moment it’s all over anyway because the clouds are moving like stage sets in front of the sun and now it’s gone flat.”
Drenched in fogs surging in from the North Atlantic, Mayo is kissed by a cool Artic light so distinctive that it has its own name: the Blue Charm. Mr. Shils pays homage to that light, refracted through moisture and seized with plein air veracity. His titles have the ring of notes to himself jotted down on site. A literary touch, they confirm the sense of sheer immediacy passionately conveyed by each work.
“Gentle Morning, Drifting Sun, Toward the Stella Maris” (2004), a radiant panorama of Bunatrahir Bay from the high coastal road, comes closest to description. Yet even here, no definitive contours slow the movement of the painting. The Stella Maris, once a fortress, is a blurred rectangle of subdued white cresting an expanse of modulated greens and cobalts that evaporate into cloud. Truth to nature is in his color; delineation is needless.
The simplicity of his painting belies the mastery that permits Mr. Shils the freedom of his responses and insures the luminous delicacy of his results.