From Mark Shields and Dan Dowling’s 1993 exhibition at the Cavehill Gallery, The Mystery of Sacrifice exemplifies Shields’s intricate style of portraiture. His paintings for the exhibition were complex studies, all finely painted using acrylic on linen. In this work, a meticulous portrait study, a detailed face is revealed below a transparent veil surrounded by vivid red roses. Indebted to the realism of Old Masters and the Expressionist portraits akin to Paula Modersohn-Becker, The Mystery of Sacrifice is a meeting point between traditional painterly skill and modernist sentiment. Shield’s artistic aim is ultimately ‘to present a tangible, living presence combined with an evocation of the inner life, the soul of things…A yearning for the spiritual yet with an emotional and physical tension.’
After completing a BA in Fine Art and a PGCE in Art and Design at the University of Ulster, Shields’s went on to exhibit frequently at the Royal Ulster Academy, Royal Hibernian Academy, and the Royal Academy of Arts. His works are also found in numerous public and private collections including the Arts Council for Northern Ireland, the Ulster Television Collection, the Ulster Museum, and National Gallery of Ireland.
A student trip in 1984 would leave a lasting impression on the artist, after encountering the visionaries of European modernism. Shields’s portraits speak to the sombre tones and focused composition of Cezanne’s and Manet’s portraits, the oval faces and minimalist palette of Modigliani, and a technical skill for light and realism akin to the greats of Titian and Caravaggio. Shields’s adoption of a softer approach to realism allows for stillness and peace to prevail, with the drama being in the complexity of his compositions.
The Mystery of Sacrifice embodies Mark Shields’s acute painterly skill for portraiture, along with a technical mastery of light and composition, drawing on the influence of both classical and modern masters.