The exhibit was on Tony Shiels, considered one of the third generation St Ives’ artists, but what totally surprised me was the video, Making Marks, by Ben MacGregor that was used to support the show. It did much more than that; it stole the show! I wasn’t prepared to be enchanted by a video about an artist, so different from the ones museums and galleries use to promote an exhibit, depicting with encyclopaedic-like accuracy an artist’s life and work. MacGregor didn’t embellish or beautify him, on the contrary, he gave a glimpse of a very quirky and eccentric individual, who perhaps uses insanity as an art form. After 24 minutes of captivating film I began to think it was the art work that supported the video; it was that good. The video delves into “the reasons why Tony ‘Doc’ Shiels has been painted out of the St Ives art scene” and makes the works come alive, more than the paintings by themselves.
After getting arrested for drunkenness and brandishing a gun in front of the local police and being sectioned, Shiels left St Ives, but continued to lead a very colourful life with magic performances at fairs and festivals and also a series of sea monster performances where he led everyone into believing there was a live monster in the sea. All this magic and alchemy is also reflected in his art.
Apart from the nudes that weren’t particularly striking, I found the paintings depicting St Ives, Sea Heads, Straw Boys, a cowboy done for the cover of the Beatles 1967 album, Is That My Wyatt??? and a Scarecrow full of childish energy and even amusing. The series of work of Sea Heads which represent clouds with their sudden water bombs, typical of Cornwall, were striking. It all made me wonder if it was the magician showman side of this man with a somewhat exotic lifestyle or the real geniality of an artist that continues into his painting that left me with a good taste in my mouth.
Prices range from £130 to £1000
Daisy Laing Gallery, Penzance, Cornwall 7 December 2018 – 15 January 2019
Ben MacGregor’s film on Tony Shiels can be watched at:
Volume 33 no 4 March / April 2019