An artist who has used a rich variety of materials and craft techniques in his work, Alan Shields was born in Lost Springs, Kansas. He attended Kansas State University, and although he had begun his undergraduate study in engineering, he soon became interested in the visual arts. In 1968 he moved to New York City, where he was able to see firsthand the work of contemporary artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, whom Shields particularly admired and whose work he knew only through art magazines. From his adolescence, Shields had maintained an interest in the theater, and he spent two summers (1968 and 1969) at theater workshops at the University of Maine. His experience with stage design affected his art, particularly the use of color to create mood, but also in the conception of a work of art on a large scale, as environment.
The emergence of minimalism as an important approach also influenced Shields' work, which exhibits a commitment to abstraction. At the same time, he maintains an openness to experimenting with nontraditional materials and techniques, and he has used thread as the bearer of color and stitching to create lines and patterns. Shields' interest in process and materials of art has also led him to make the paper for much of his graphic work. His works are characterized by a sophisticated use of rich and expressive color and crisp, dynamic line. His compositions are often set up on a grid that is animated by color and punctuated by strong curves or diagonals, as in his assembled color screenprint Dorothy Jean.
[This is an excerpt from the interactive companion program to the videodisc American Art from the National Gallery of Art. Produced by the Department of Education Resources, this teaching resource is one of the Gallery's free-loan educational programs.]