The exhibit was on Tony Shiels, considered one of the third generation St Ives’ artists, but what totally surprised me was the video, Making Marks, by Ben MacGregor that was used to support the show. It did much more than that; it stole the show! I wasn’t prepared to be enchanted by a video about an artist, so different from the ones museums and galleries use to promote an exhibit, depicting with encyclopaedic-like accuracy an artist’s life and work. MacGregor didn’t embellish or beautify him, on the contrary, he gave a glimpse of a very quirky and eccentric individual, who perhaps uses insanity as an art form. After 24 minutes of captivating film I began to think it was the art work that supported the video; it was that good. The video delves into “the reasons why Tony ‘Doc’ Shiels has been painted out of the St Ives art scene” and makes the works come alive, more than the paintings by themselves.
After getting arrested for drunkenness and brandishing a gun in front of the local police and being sectioned, Shiels left St Ives, but continued to lead a very colourful life with magic performances at fairs and festivals and also a series of sea monster performances where he led everyone into believing there was a live monster in the sea. All this magic and alchemy is also reflected in his art.

Portrait of Baron Samedi (2009)

Apart from the nudes that weren’t particularly striking, I found the paintings depicting St Ives, Sea Heads, Straw Boys, a cowboy done for the cover of the Beatles 1967 album, Is That My Wyatt??? and a Scarecrow full of childish energy and even amusing. The series of work of Sea Heads which represent clouds with their sudden water bombs, typical of Cornwall, were striking. It all made me wonder if it was the magician showman side of this man with a somewhat exotic lifestyle or the real geniality of an artist that continues into his painting that left me with a good taste in my mouth.

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Pendery Weekes

Daisy Laing Gallery, Penzance, Cornwall 7 December 2018 – 15 January 2019
Ben MacGregor’s film on Tony Shiels can be watched at:

Volume 33 no 4 March / April 2019


5 thoughts on “Tony Shiels, the Movie

  1. I can’t believe how unfair it was, that he had to leave simply for drunkenly brandishing a gun in front of the local police station. Something most of us have done, I’m sure. Rite of passage sort of thing. I hope he was naked at the same time… I saw his work on Google Images and it was good. You can see the energy and quality in the artwork, made by someone with visual experience and emotional depth, which is what makes an artist. Shiels has that skill, he makes images like playing riffs on a guitar when you’re really good… that comes from long practice and following one’s inner voice, rising from the creative unconscious. Nice.

    1. Hi Miklos,
      You think brandishing a gun in front of the local police station is something most of us have done and you’re sure! You sound like quite a cowboy; what must Canada still be like today? I can only imagine!
      Yes, I agree with you that Shiel’s work is good; he has a vision and it’s not what everyone else sees in the art world today – his glasses are very special.
      Thank you for your comment.

      1. I was inspired by Monty Python with that comment. But also, Cornwall had Vikings in the past, so I thought such behavior would remain through the centuries.

  2. Hi Pendery,
    Searching for the video page of the magazine, I only found your review of Ben MacGregor’s film and Tony Shiels’ exhibit. I wanted to share this artistic video that I came across which merits watching:

    Its beauty, enveloped with the magic of a piano on fire at sunset, is complemented by the music of the old piano player. Art can also be about beautiful moments.

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