Fine art

Visceral experience

In 'Dreaming the Land,' a response by two artists to the environment doesn't have to be literal

By Dena Miller
Posted 10/11/18

Our lives are governed by landscapes. It's our personalities that determine how we view ourselves in their context. In wanting to avoid a misstep, perhaps we concentrate on the terrain …

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Fine art

Visceral experience

In 'Dreaming the Land,' a response by two artists to the environment doesn't have to be literal


Our lives are governed by landscapes. It's our personalities that determine how we view ourselves in their context. In wanting to avoid a misstep, perhaps we concentrate on the terrain underfoot, or maybe we see ourselves in a locale, a backdrop for our day-to-day activities. Others, of course, see the entire panorama and revel in the 360-degree views surrounding them.

If you are of the former persuasion, then the time may be upon you to expand your horizons and gain an appreciation for the minutia and majesty of nature as have two extraordinary Taos artists, Brian Shields and William Stewart.

"Dreaming the Land," their first two-person exhibition together, opens with a reception today (Thursday, Oct. 11) from 4-6 p.m. in the Encore Gallery at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Admission is free, and the artists will greet guests.

"Visitors will experience, in companion abstract expressions, the lyric conversation of these works brought together in this exhibition," said Colette LaBouff, executive director of Taos Center for the Arts, who manages the venue owned by the town of Taos.

And the discourse will truly be eloquent. Rarely does a multi-artist exhibit demonstrate the degree of consonance found in "Dreaming the Land," where works hung side by side are as conversant with each other as with their audience.

Both Shields and Stewart are accomplished plein air painters who have recently moved into their respective studios, each tackling large scale canvases with oil paints, graphite and colored inks to capture and reimagine the beauty of lands for which they have developed a profound affinity.

The idea for the show sprang from the professional and personal connections they have made over the last 18 months, from artist talks to critique seminars held at the University of New Mexico-Taos. "Our mutual admiration for each other's work and our similar aesthetic led us to visiting each other's studios, and that is how we decided to jointly submit a proposal to (the Taos Center for the Arts)," Shields explained.

Delicate balance

Shields is long-known in Taos as the founder of Amigos Bravos, which, since 1998, has been a fierce advocacy group protecting the delicate balance of our water and environment. It is no surprise, then, that his life as an artist explores the balance of human interaction with the natural world.

"After I graduated college with majors in art and art history, a friend talked me into moving out here to head up an art department in a Southern Colorado school district," he said. "It was a poor district with no money for supplies, so I began taking my students outside to collect art materials or do rubbings."

"That experience fostered my love for the beauty of this part of the country," he continued. He began painting en plein air and also found an easy segue into a career guiding expeditions into wilderness rivers and canyons throughout the Southwest.

"Even though this predated the tourist-driven rafting tours of today, I could see that our minimal impact along the Río Grande and Chama rivers was enough to cause me concern. As an artist, I became aware of the contradiction inherent in finding serenity and adventure in an idyllic landscape whose very existence was, and is, threatened."

After 26 years as an environmental advocate, he turned to a full-time painting practice in 2015 that is a juxtaposition of those passions in the abstract expressionist works of his "Landscapes" series.

Shields was born in Spain, where he still maintains a home. His extensive travels throughout Europe exposed him to the finest of classical art at a young age.

In fact, he still has a postcard he purchased at the age of 10 during a visit to the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy. "It's of Caravaggio's 'Medusa,' the painting that made me say, 'Wow, this is how powerful art really is.'"

Joie de vivre

Stewart, who was born in Waco, Texas, also found a wealth of early inspiration in his European travels. After graduating from the University of Texas with a major in history, "I traveled overseas in my twenties, getting there on a freighter and living on a shoestring budget," he said. "But I visited all the great museums. To this day I admire Delacroix, the German expressionists and Spanish painters. The Goya frescoes of San Antonio de la Florida in Madrid remain among my favorites."

Upon his return to the United States, Stewart fell into the New York City art scene where his avant-garde works were represented by the groundbreaking O.K. Harris Gallery. He was also exhibited at Germany's Rudolph Zwirner Gallery and the Paris Biennale.

As with Shields, the trajectory of Stewart's work was influenced by the landscapes in which he lived. He spent four years in Oaxaca, Mexico, where "I fell in love with its joie de vivre and the spirit of its people, the colors, flowers, food, the sea and the mountains," he said, noting he returns there annually. The exhibition features oil paintings, watercolors and lithographs created there last winter and is aptly named the "Oaxaca Series."

Stewart permanently relocated to Taos in 1983, remained an active figurative and landscape painter, and until recently, was an adjunct professor at UNM-Taos. His approach to the depiction of the surroundings he loved shifted after a number of residencies, including the Emily Harvey Foundation in Venice and the Watermill Center on Long Island, New York.

"I moved completely into abstraction though my colors are still from nature and light remains an important element of my work," he said.

Contemplate beauty

Together, the works of Shields and Stewart give one a reason to contemplate both the beauty around us and the potential of art on canvas or paper to communicate what words cannot. "My medium is energy," said Shields, who is driven to move the art of painting forward in the traditional form. Stewart agreed. "There is a visceral experience between the artist and canvas," one that should not be lost to future generations.

For more information about "Dreaming the Land" and the artists' talk scheduled for Thursday (Oct. 25), call (575) 758-2052, or visit


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