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Galleries: Faith runs deep in NI artist's new exhibition

Mark Shields, The Inaccessible Land. FE McWilliam Gallery & Studio Newry Road, Banbridge. Until May 19


Branching out: Shields was inspired by a tree in his garden

Branching out: Shields was inspired by a tree in his garden

Branching out: Shields was inspired by a tree in his garden


What makes a great artist? Technical ability, certainly. Subject matter, perhaps. Exposure also helps in today's tech-media age. But what makes the reputation last? Could it be honesty?

Some art pieces you look at, you can feel the soul of the creator screaming out at you. On occasion, this happens when you follow an artist and see the linear path of his or her creativity as it develops.

Mark Shields has very quickly developed a reputation as an artist of considerable technical ability, most particularly in portraiture and still life works.

He is well-known for his portrait of the Rev Ian Paisley. In 2009, it became the first of an Ulsterman to adorn the walls of Parliament.

Now Shields is back in Northern Ireland with a new exhibition, The Inaccessible Land, which consists of work created over the past four years.

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It also presents a number of distinct series that explore the tension between representation and abstraction.

Two of these I particularly like - In Principio (In the Beginning), and The Way.

The first consists of 49 charcoal drawings that originated with the motif of a perfect arch formed by the lower branches of two trees in Shields' garden. The arch became the focus for all 49 drawings, produced over a period of seven days. Seven drawings were completed on the first day and on each day afterwards (this references the artist's continuing interest in theology, and the opening words of The Book of Genesis). These pieces are beautiful in their purity and simplicity.

The Way is a series of simple, woodcut prints based on the Tao Te Ching, a fundamental text for both philosophical and religious Taoism.

It's important to visit this show in order to experience an artist bravely leaving behind safety, and honestly daring to reveal his inner journey.

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