Christopher Millis, Irish Eyes, Peter Brooke and Stuart Shils
The Boston Phoenix, Arts, October 29, 1999
Thrills of a different and even more unexpected sort await one with Stuart Shils’s small windows on the sky. Shils’s paintings are uniformly small and square; they feel like portals in an ancient building. And even before you’ve looked at the titles of his works (with names like Morning, Pale Mists and Light Rain and Sun Coming Through Rain over Ballycastle), you might get a sense—despite their near—total whiteness, despite their similarity to one another, and despite their seeming simplicity—that there’s a lot going on. Compared with Peter Brooke’s expansive dramas, which feel as if they’d been ironed onto the canvas for their glossy sheen, Shils’s paintings register as almost microscopic investigations of patches of tumultuous air. The white paint of his frames crosshatches over the palest backdrops of color and rises from the surface to create tiny, glinting moments of light. One of the ironies of Shils’s work is that for all the apparent openness and accessibility of these delicate abstractions, they are immensely if quietly demanding. Shils takes nuance to the extreme. The difference between any two works is almost defiantly subtle: only the lightest intimations of yellow indicate sun; only the thinnest fragments of gray indicate a storm. His achievement is so whisper—like, I wish the display itself were better attuned to his style. White walls behind significantly white paintings do not serve him, and neither does the uniform spacing of his frames around the gallery invite us to see the differences between any two. Nevertheless, Shils’s is a resounding quietude.