Remember that intricately illustrated and captivating children’s book calledScholastic First Encyclopedia: How Things Work, by Claire Llewellyn? My kid loved it. It was filled with explanations of everyday things as well as beautiful illustrations. When I read it as an adult with my child, it reminded me of the wide-eyed, innocent, enchanted point of view that children have. Children have an insatiable amazement about how things are constructed, how they work, whether it’s a laptop, a radio, a piece of fruit, a flower, or any number of natural and manmade structures. It’s a world view in which everything is new and fascinating. Everything is worth one look, and another. Those simple childhood questions, repeatedly asking “why?” and “how?” exasperate adults yet seem to be a manifestation of that sense that the world is full of unexplained miracles, dreams that come true, magical glitter falling in the snow globe of their world. As adults, many of us lose that childhood sense of wonder, as if we’ve grown world-weary and simple things no longer captivate us or spark our curiosity the way they did as children. Why is that? The world is still filled with magic all around us; it just takes a certain kind of childlike gaze to see it. Yet that sense of creative looking somehow seems to dull as you get older. Perhaps it’s cynicism or the experience of having dreams crushed or knowing that the magical snow globe isn’t real. Or it’s realizing that life is hard and filled with suffering. Some artists certainly convey that suffering in their work, adding a facet to art that makes it more real, relatable, alive, yet many artists and creative people also have the unique ability to see the world with the wondrous eyes of children. Perhaps this quality is one of many things that makes some artwork so enticing- it helps us world-weary viewers see the world through renewed, fresh, childlike eyes.
In her textile works, Theresa Shields manages to capture that sense of wonder and curiosity. She artfully opens up pieces of fruit to reveal their exquisite essence in her beautiful works. It’s not just an idealized fruit, usually painted to reveal its lovely colors, shininess, visually stunning perfection, but it’s the fruit in all of its imperfections and seeds and even some mushiness. These works seem to diverge from that traditional still life impulse to paint perfection, and rather exude a curiosity to see what’s really there when the fruit is split open. In contrast to the still life, the fruit of Shields’ work is real: it’s the product of what you get when you split open the fruit. Perfection is nowhere in sight. The colors are creatively enhanced, but otherwise it’s like a botany lesson in fruit. It answers the “how?” and “why?” questions by just showing the unvarnished, yet miraculous truth. It’s like an answer to a plant section in How Things Work. The artist notes a longstanding interest in circles, a playful way of looking at the world through shapes. She states: “My passion for circles has given me a way to view typically overlooked everyday objects and see them as something visually more complex and interesting.” This captures her spirit of exploration and curiosity, harkening back to that childlike wonder about everyday things in the environment.
Each of her works are made by incorporating thousands of small french knots, either on wool fabric or canvas. The use of textiles adds a tactile element to each piece as if she is saying that not only can you see the imperfect interior anatomy of this piece of fruit, but you are also free to explore by touching it. She states: “I try to make these little pieces of art irresistible to the touch because that’s the wonderful result of what you can do with fabric and fiber and stitches.” Interior Fig is a cacophony of gorgeous color and small knots that look themselves like the small interior seeds. There is a small darker area on the bottom where it is perhaps overripe or bruised. It’s a small piece, 6”x 6,” which allows us to feel like we are looking into a small secret window, privy to a small miracle of the natural world. Similarly, Lotus Seed Pod, from the plant which is a native aquatic perennial of Vietnam and is not common in these parts, again shows us the intricacies of this special world. Interestingly, they have unusual circular seed pods, allowing the artist to further explore her interest in circles. It is made up of beautiful, imaginatively expressed vibrant colors and small knots that add a tactile quality to the work. And one from the series Post Edenic Dystopian: One Bad Apple, is meticulously crafted of knots on canvas. It depicts an apple that is not only of a strange oval shape but also perhaps given the title and the multiple layers of greenish insides are truly one bad apple. We can see the large seeds and the core. Again, this is not a perfect apple, but an investigation of nature, replete with its imperfections. We are taken back to the whimsical landscape of childhood, where we may have been enticed to examine a sliced open a piece of fruit or a plant or rip apart a flower just to see the inside. We did this merely to answer the how and the why, and to see with our own innocent, incessantly curious young eyes. It perhaps can remind us that there are still miracles around us in the form of our natural world. And maybe dreams really can come true (and not sure but maybe magical snow globe glitter may even exist). Perhaps art can teach us something about that. But we also need to re-learn how to look.