Edward J. Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Edward J. Sozanski, The Philadelphia Inquirer, January 30, 1992
F.A.N. Gallery, 311 Cherry St., Philadelphia

Stuart Shils’ tiny landscapes are so unassuming that they’re easily overwhelmed when shown next to larger, more demonstrative work. But when Shils has a gallery space all to himself, as he does with his solo show as F.A.N., his paintings build up a collective presence that reveals their subtle but very solid virtues.

There are 73 pictures in this show, most, if not all, no larger than a sheet of typing paper. All are painted in oils on paper, and the majority of those have been mounted on board and framed. For the most part, Shils’ subjects consist of ordinary Philadelphia street scenes, with a few landscapes mixed in.

Everything in his method rejects the grandiose statement. His palette is restrained and his brushwork loose and casual. There doesn’t seem to be much happening in the pictures until you’ve seen a dozen or so, and then the painter’s craft begins to emerge.

There’s a tremendous range of light in these little scenes, created by tonal underpainting and the feathery dance of a scumbling brush over the surface—even the lift marks contribute. The painting isn’t precise, but it still conveys a wealth of detail; that’s what makes the pictures sing.

In short, this is painting straight out of the art history books, but with a feeling of immediacy and spirit. These qualities tend to diminish with size, and the smallest pictures, which are not much larger than a playing card, don’t carry at all. But all in all, Shils makes a strong impression, thanks in large part to the slow, collective accretion of minor sensations and delights.