Review: Looking back at Alan Shields' forward-looking abstract work

Alan Shields’ second solo show in California (his first was in San Francisco in 1974) takes visitors back to a time when abstract painting was so uncool that the only people who pursued it were purists.

Love of art for its own sake, and not as a path to fame or fortune, was the name of the game for painters like Shields (1944-2005), who went to great lengths to turn scraps of canvas, beads and thread into funky forms that flirted with the earthiness of folk art while wrestling with the functionality of craftsmanship and making a joke of tastefulness.

At Cherry and Martin, three small framed works on paper, all from 1968, look less like drawings than poems, their tightly typed lines creating visual rhythms that get even better when you read them — or sing them — aloud.

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Three unstretched canvases, from 1976, 1982 and 1984, resemble gigantic washcloths or dishrags or fishing nets that are well on their way to being reincarnated as abstract paintings but haven’t yet passed the point of no return. If these pieces had feet, they would not be firmly planted anywhere but would dance, defiantly free of every stricture.

A trio of three-dimensional pieces makes the brain say "sculpture" while the body screams "painting." “In Bed the Sky Is Teacups” (1976-77), “The Queen of Jordella’s Crown” (1978) and “Dance Bag” (1985) treat viewers to experiences that cannot be categorized or known abstractly.

Although the art market is nothing like it was when Shields made these beneath-the-radar paintings, it’s exciting to see how fresh they look today. It’s even more heartening to know how influential they’re becoming.


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Cherry and Martin, 2712 S. La Cienega Blvd., (310) 559-0100, through Jan. 11. Closed Sundays and Mondays.


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