New York

Alan Shields

Looking at Shields’s recent works,one is at first overwhelmed by their insistence on eccentricity. His Peal-Peel Fume Well is a large fabric cylinder stained and sprayed in gaily colored stripes which hangs limply from the ceiling. The strangeness of this ostensibly purposeless object hints at some fetishistic function. Although the form of the object is a product of personal whimsy, in its assumption of a magical significance inherent in its existence, it becomes distanced from its creator. The very playfulness of the decorative bands of color further removes the object from an intimate connection to its maker. It may seem contradictory that an eccentric object should also appear impersonal. And yet eccentricity by definition emphasizes oddity, and oddity may become a surface game the artist plays with the viewer to reveal the weirdness, without the accompanying significance, of his private fantasy world. With Shields, moreover, it is the energetic fun of his idiosyncratic imagination which dominates. Ohio Blue Tip is a tented playground environment bedecked with a carnival of beaded ropes, stained fabric strips and gaudily painted ribbons. Poles, ladders, grids of material, hanging walls of stitched-together canvas—everything is saturated with painted color. One finds oneself whirling in the merry-go-round chaos of a joyous celebration. Color, color, color. One’s senses no longer discriminate; there is no visual order. Perhaps one might complain that all of this is entertainment and that as entertainment it leaves one only with the glut of sensation. In this respect, his rows of brightly painted sticks, boxes, bracelets, and beads hanging by threads from the ceiling are less overtly dramatic. Here whimsy and color are given space to breathe so that one is aware of rather than bedazzled by the information. Shields’s tendency to ostentatiously willful exuberance often excludes the viewer from any participation beyond mere satiation. When he is less assertively festive, the viewer too begins to share in the fun of his imagination.

Susan Heinemann