Cate McQuaid, Illumining Two Visions of Irish Landscape
The Boston Globe, October 1999
The light in Ireland is like the Irish: playful, coy, often dour, sometimes dazzling. It’s the mutable light of an island. American painters Peter Brooke and Stuart Shils tackle Irish light in separate shows—not just Irish light, but that of a particular town in County Mayo, on the northwest coast—and come up with radically different visions…
Both Brooke and Shils, whose paintings of Ireland and Philadelphia hang at the Barton-Ryan Gallery, spent time in Ballycastle, County Mayo, at the Ballinglen Arts Foundation. Shils has spent summers there for the last seven years. Where Brookes’ paintings are open, embracing great volumes of sky, Shils are close. He looks at the near distance, and sees the nearly suffocating fog and rain, then somehow finds light within them.
Shils is better known for more imagistic paintings, evocations of the boxy urban landscape of Philadelphia executed with impertinent, lyrical brushwork. The brushwork remains, but the shapes fade into washes of pale light. Hints at the contours of the landscape give way to thickly applied color, which would be confining if its pearly tones didn’t hint at translucence.
"Clouds and Rain Blown Across Fields" is an elegant drenching of blue-gray that, despite its rainy quality, feels suffused with soft light. It comes down in violent, ragged sheets over a ground of hazy white and pale green, just hinting at landscape taking shape beyond our sight.
"By the River, Light Breaking Through," painted—like all of Shils’s paintings—en plein air, this one by the shores of the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, actually gives us the shadowy outline of buildings near the top. The rush of brushwork below in blushed tones hints at reflection in water below. It’s a moment of transition —between day and night, between rain and clearing. Shils gives us the substance of light at the time when it is most substantive, ghostly and thick…