"Dreams are the voice of nature within us."
—Marie-Louise von Franz
I grew up in Spain during the Franco era, and came of age in Paris, London, New York, and San Francisco. I came to make my home within the mountains, mesas, and diverse cultures of southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.
While teaching art in the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado, I discovered the Wild West and the Dao of living from the land by farming, hunting, and fishing in the Culebra Mountains and by guiding expeditions into wilderness rivers and canyons throughout the Southwest. I loved the landscape and began painting it at that time. Eventually, I became aware of the contradiction inherent in finding serenity, adventure, and art in an idyllic landscape whose very existence was and is threatened.
I spent 26 years as a professional environmental advocate, organizing and leading collaborations on behalf of the waters of New Mexico and the creatures that depend on those waters. During that time, I continued painting plein air. In 2015, I transitioned to a full-time painting practice in my studio in Ranchos de Taos.
My work is inseparable from the values, experiences, and artistic influences of my past, as well as contemporary preoccupations with eco-disasters, medical interventions, divisive politics, and artificial intelligence. I continue to think about what can and should be done to care for our planet. I feel that it is my personal responsibility to live fully and deeply as a human and as an artist, maker, and contributor to this world. Whether I am running rivers, skiing down a mountain, playing music, or painting, my process is one of jumping onto the medium, the river, and letting it take me in. My challenge is to stay in the process, as with breath in meditation.
My works are an expression of my experiences and feelings. They are my exploration of all of this energy, emotion, and fuerza. They begin simply, with an image from nature or a color that intrigues me. They may be propelled by a mood or a feeling left over from a dream, or they may grow in reaction to one of my own creative acts, my gestures, my actions. Generally, these initial activities give way to interactions, swelling and evolving into a process. I add to surfaces, subtract from them, scratch it all up, push and pull at it all. I look for life, contrast, and surprise—the heart of the piece. Like the landscape, these forces drive the material into a record of experience and lived action over time.
When I am painting, thoughts are distractions, judgments are obstacles, interruptions are hazards. In my opinion, abstract art, like improvisation, cannot lie. It IS. Making art challenges me to stay in the present and with the process. It is like meditation. If I can stay with the breath, I will be present for the experience.
In a post-truth society, my responsibility is to speak my truth. The act of making art has become genuine and purposeful. I am currently working on three distinct bodies of work: zen-inspired ink paintings on paper; mural-sized abstract landscapes in oils on canvas; and large lyrical mixed-media paintings, including an ongoing collaboration with the poet Sawnie Morris.
My three muses are Eros, Duende, and being present as I experience committed, soulful work. It is my hope that the results, my paintings and works on paper, communicate my experiences and stimulate others to consider how they too can authentically engage the ideas and issues that confront all of us.
Brian Shields (b. 1946, Barcelona, Spain) is a painter based in Taos. His paintings were the subject of a solo exhibition, Myths, Lyrics, & Landscapes, held at Michael Warren Contemporary, Denver in 2019. In 2018, his paintings were on view at eight different venues in Los Angeles, Barcelona, Denver, and Taos. Shields’ work has been shown frequently in Taos since 1991, with solo exhibitions at the Bareiss Gallery in 2015 and 1999. He was educated at the American College in Paris; Hofstra University, New York; the Art Students League, New York City; and the University of New Mexico-Taos.
Learn more at brianshieldspaintings.com/
Brian Shields. Spring, 2018. oil graphite, gesso on canvas. Framed: 65.5” x 93”.
Courtesy of the artist, Brian Shields.