Alan Shields 1944 – 2005

ShieldsAlan came to the University of Wisconsin in 1977 to chat with a few grad students.  I believe that he was there for the  opening of an exhibition at the Madison Art Center along with one of my major professors, Victor Kord.  Alan spent a couple of hours with us talking about his experiences in New York City, how his career had evolved since the late 60s and his thoughts on some of the things he felt were crucial for a young artist finding a path that would allow them to stay in the studio and make art.

I found Alan to be quite charismatic, tall and good looking with a shaved head.  When he walked into the room, the energy level went up a few gigawatts, his smile infectious.  He knew that he had an effect on people and made that a point about how he had worked hard to bring some theatre into the circles he moved in.

I never talked with Alan again after that afternoon in our studios, but remember him as a romantic, dashing actor of an artist who was working hard to define his own path, one that was not a linear progression from Abstract Expressionism, but opening up new possibilities for his creative expression.  His constructions seemed to me almost like quilt-making, using color and fabric, unstretched canvas working both sides of it, forcing the art dialog to consider that works could exist off the walls of museums and galleries.

When asked what the number one piece of advice was for us, he said that it was critically important to be a colorful persona when meeting with people at openings or parties, to make a splashy entrance, even to go as far as showing up “naked wearing a cape”.

I do not know if Alan ever actually did the cape thing, but it would not surprise me based on the short time we talked.


Jan Anders Nelson

Gig Harbor, Washington


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