Tom Csaszar, The New Art Examiner

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Tom Csaszar, The New Art Examiner,
Stuart Shils, Mangel Gallery

Stuart Shils has a firmly established local and regional reputation as a painter’s painter: a dedicated, resolute producer of urban landscapes on pocket-sized or book-sized sheets of paper. His paintings are consistently engaging, carefully observed, and concisely stated. He reformulates his experience of the environment in a manner reminiscent of work by Edwin Dickenson, Fairfield Porter, and Richard Upton. His paintings form a diary of sensations and responses. If they border on being romantic or Impressionist, they remain directly sensuous and inquisitive. In Shils’s work, subjective experience, bordering on abstract statement, reveals not only solutions to formal problems, but social and personal significance. Shils’s last show contained urban vistas, domestic still lifes, and leafy landscapes. In his urban landscapes, the colors were sharp but subdued, and the images were hermetic, soft, fleeting, frozen in time, and observational; about that moment when the presence of a sequence of buildings, street lights, and sheets of asphalt became a subjective vision, an emotional experience. In Shils’s current exhibit, the urban views have moved in closer to the buildings, sometimes to the rear of rowhouses, and produce a more broad geometric structure. The rectilinear planes and screeching lines, which sometimes look like they’re drawn with a stick, don’t quite merge gesture and vision. Both are left open for consideration, unresolved. His rural landscapes are less about leaf, and more about geological formation and weather. Whereas Shils’s earlier pieces were more about observation and a moment of subjective experience—a journal entry -now they fall into two categories: one in which the buildings appear as backdrops for a narrative of events, as in Backs of Rowhouses Northern Liberties and another in which the buildings, street lights, and streets themselves become players in a sort of symbolic architectural drama, as in Roxborough Streets. They take on a personal character, functioning more as objects of a still life than as elements defining the limits of a view of an urban vista, The force of the vision becomes more centripetal that centrifugal, and this is what gives these paintings, like the paintings of Upton, more than the power of a well crafted study of effects of light and atmosphere. Emotional responses, sometimes a puzzled sense of humor, or a sense of how our lives are embedded in what we see and how we are constantly re-presenting our vision of the world’s events to ourselves: all these are reticent in Shils’s recent paintings yet decidedly present.