Paul Shakespear lives and works in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he was educated at Boston College, the University of Manchester, and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
I keep painting because sometimes I glimpse, in my work or the work of others, what the simple combination of paint, canvas and wood can achieve: a mysteriously powerful compression of emotion, memory, and visual delight.
Painting, like making music, is an activity beyond words, a reaching for the emotional and unconscious world.
Thirty or more thin acrylic glazes are brushed, troweled, and rubbed on each painting to achieve the final surface.
Going Beyond the Surface
by Cate McQuaid
May 9, 2012
Painter Paul Shakespear experiments with the material properties of paint: how to achieve translucence? Depth? A stony surface? His show at Howard Yezerski Gallery features all these, sometimes juxtaposed in a single piece. The work has no narrative. There’s some mark making, but it’s subservient to the tactile quality of the surface of a painting, or its luminosity. It’s all about painting as object.
Shakespear applies dozens of glazes to each canvas with a trowel, creating panels dense with color. Looking into them is like peering into a giant aquarium. In “Vault,” that aquarium would be filled with honey. The murky, rich panels in this four-square grid lighten along the edges and at corners. The piece’s rich sensuality is reined in only by its strict, modernist format.
“Pier” comprises three panels. The center, a vertical white column, is breathy in places, buttery in others. The panel on the left is gritty, rugged, with rough swipes of dark brown over a ground that resembles lichen-covered rock. The right, a deliciously glossy teal, shimmers like a swatch of silk. The two side panels play off each other—rough versus soft, defiantly opaque versus luminously shiny. The middle column cleanses the palate. Each panel is a world unto itself, and a place to spend time.
Paul Shakespear at Howard Yezerski Gallery,
and Brian Dickerson at Seraphin Gallery
by Nate Risteen
The Boston Art Review
May 20, 2012
In the past I've remarked on how hard it can be to see contemporary figurative art in Boston, and how different this is from Philadelphia, where good figurative painting seems to be everywhere. Philly's painters also manage to ignore the science-based abstraction of many Boston artists, with their silence coming as a subtle rejection of that interest. But I stumbled on two shows this month, one in each city, which argue against these regional distinctions. Neither has Philadelphia's figurative leanings, nor does either slide into the biomorphic abstractions that dominate galleries in Boston. Paul Shakespear and Brian Dickerson have both mounted shows that focus on material and surface qualities, with similarities in tone and composition that stand for another, shared direction in American painting.
That being said, both shows make a direct reference to other countries. Paul Shakespear has titled his show Corrientes, after a regional capital in his native Argentina. Brian Dickerson's works are all from a residency in Ireland, and I find it telling that each artist could find such similar geometric shapes under the spell of such different places. This tempts me to see a set of shared values in current American painting as the link, values that emphasize a deep surface, a long viewing experience, and craft.
It's difficult to imagine Corrientes and Ballinglen giving equal inspiration for the transparent and forceful rectangles of these shows. I would also like to think that Philly and Boston's architectural similarities might have inspired these paintings, but that just isn't what's happening. There is certainly precedence in art history here, but the complex surface quality in these shows is in direct opposition to the work of Piet Mondrian, the late paintings of Barnett Newman, or other modernists who share Paul Shakespear and Brian Dickerson's geometric interests but who strove for flat surfaces. I'm left hoping that the surface depth of Dickerson and Shakespeare's works is a sign of a more long-lasting visual interest in art, one that's different from the figurative dominance in Philly and the biomorphic obsession of Boston. Two artists don't make a national movement, but to see these shows in the same month in such different artistic climates gives me a flicker of excitement.
Journey of Enlightenment
by Cate McQuaid
October 28, 2005
Paul Shakespear makes ravishing abstract paintings from up to 40 layers of acrylic medium. Many of his works at Howard Yezerski Gallery are topped off with a high gloss, and you get the sense that you're not looking at the painting but gazing into it, as you would into a deep, still pool. It's easy to think of gloss as slick, glib, and Pop-oriented, but Shakespear goes the opposite way. His works are deeply contemplative.
“Tiger Mountain” has three parts. The first features a brooding plum tone shot through with electric blue. In the second, the blue rises and begins to disperse, brilliantly. The third is dark and streaked, resembling a jungle at night. The three describe a journey of enlightenment, from inkling to the “aha!” of understanding, which glitters before life again subsumes it.
His matte-finished works also fascinate in their density. “Consequence,” a triptych, features a central panel that blends the slate quality of blackboard with the opalescence of mother-of-pearl. It's flanked by what looks like the stretched bark of a cherry tree on one side and an apparent slathering of melted Creamsicles flecked with earth on the other. Shakespear tirelessly experiments with the possibilities of his medium, and the further he goes, the more interesting his work grows.
Hub’s Hidden Gems
by Mary Sherman
April 6, 2003
In these works Shakespear continues to push himself in new directions. Adding to his always-nuanced surfaces and masterful understanding of color, Shakespear now turns up the notch on textural effects.
Wringing some of the greatest variety of surfaces ever made with acrylic paint in a work such as “Il Poggio,” he places a handful of panels of layered colors so translucent they pass for glass above a highly textured surface.
The result is a tightly locked balance of contrasts that tends to highlight the strengths of the individual effects. Stark and elegant, like all the works, “Il Poggio” encompasses an uncompromising wealth of visual riches.
by Cate McQuaid
April 11, 2003
Paul Shakespear continues to plumb the possibilities of paint at Howard Yezerski Gallery. For this artist, it’s all about what he can make the paint do: squeegee it down the surface to a luminous, waxy sheen, dice it and slice it to a rocky three-dimensionality, or scuff it up to look like rusting metal.
Like many of the works here, “San Sebastian” is a diptych. The smaller horizontal panel on the top is an inky, midnight blue, with drips of paint playing over an almost purple internal light. It's a shroud of darkness, yet it glows. The square bottom panel sports layers of grays, greens, and browns. Although painted on linen, you get the sense of wood grain (indeed, when Shakespear paints on wood, you get the woven sense of linen). Every panel of every painting captures polarities of light and dark, depth and surface. They're a joy to see.
by Mary Sherman
Art New England
Insistently geometric—depicting abutting rectangles within rectangles—emphatic, and self-sufficient, Paul Shakepear's latest abstract paintings command their own space.
This was true of Shakespear's last show as well, but here texture and hue are pushed to challenging extremes, creating surprising, unexpected juxtapositions. No longer do the colors and shapes primarily seem as if they were formed by nature, cut from the Earth's crust, or inspired by watery glades. Translucent passages, acid colors, and scratchy planes have clearly been shaped, painted, and invented, and then, like a dialectic challenge, set against more naturalistic sea greens, sky blues, or rusty reds.
In one work, a strident, streaky white sandwiches a luminous blue square. In another, a hot, nuclear orange sides up to a grayish green, looking very much like a Whistler mist, punctuated by dark ciphers. In “Omero #2,” two rectangles—a rich, vibrant yellow and an amorphous bluegreen—are tensely balanced by an expanse of pocked and layered white, setting up a spatial dynamic between the forms. And although the structure is essentially abstract and geometric, the painting, like the rest of the works, projects an engaging physicality by way of color and surface atmosphere. In the end, these paintings are minimal without being austere, subtle and delicate, while brash and daring—like life itself.
Shakespear Traces Patterns from the Surface of the Eye
by Cate McQuaid
March 8, 2001
Paul Shakespear explores the depth of surface in his new paintings at the Howard Yezerski Gallery. It’s as if he’s presenting us with all the activity that happens on the surface of the eye, all the slurries and floaters, shadows and bursts of light that we gaze through each day to see the world beyond us.
The paintings are luscious, made of nearly transparent washes of acrylic paint on wood panel, canvas, or linen. Most are diptychs and triptychs, contrasting different textures, colors, and styles of painting. The juxtaposition of these elements imbues each piece with a rhythm and a solid structure through which the veils of color and texture can pour.
“Weir #2” sets a horizontal band of wood coated in shifting layers of slate blue over a much larger painting on linen, which has a mottled blue at its top. It drops, however, into a hotter hue; the bottom looks violently streaked with rust, giving the piece a corrosive quality. Apparitions of gray arcs roll amid the decay, spiriting the viewer across the painting’s surface.
The top piece is smoother, and streaked with white, looking like a blinding mist over the sea with mere glimmers of clouds and hints of light peering through. It feels more solid and elegant than its partner, representing rest as opposed to torrid action.
Often painters this concerned with surface hint at something in the deep distance as well—as if the surface were a veil shifting over some intangible truth. For Shakespear, that veil is packed with so much intrigue and truth itself, he need dig no deeper.
Catalogue Essay, 1997
by Nancy Stapen
In this era of sound bites, cyberspace, and nano-second attention spans, Paul Shakespear’s paintings seem almost anachronistic. Unlike so much contemporary art, whose message comes clear in less time than it takes to read this sentence, Shakespear’s paintings reveal themselves slowly, changing and compounding their visual information as well as their symbolic, metaphorical and metaphysical meanings over time.
It is much easier to say what Shakespear’s painting is not than to define what it is. Shakespear doesn’t “fit” into contemporary aesthetics. His painting has no political message and no historical referents. Although his art historical influences cross numerous times and cultures, ranging from Vermeer to prehistoric cave paintings to Asian art, his work is hardly an “appropriative” post- modern melange. It is not pure painting-about-painting; neither is it abstract art with an underlying social critique. Rather, it is a translation of memory, nature and experience into a complex pictorial language.
But if Shakespear functions outside artworld fashion, his paintings arise from an art historical, and especially modernist framework. Like so many in his generation, he was forged by minimalism. Shakespear’s early, reductivist minimal efforts—big hard-edged shapes limned in strong colors—long ago gave way to paintings of increasing intricacy. As he observes, “I quickly became more interested in having more, rather than less, in a painting.” For Shakespear, the limitations and parameters of minimalism acted as a kind of springboard for ever more complicated imagery.
Nevertheless, the paintings initially seem straightforward. This seeming simplicity derives from an adherence to classical geometric and architectonic principles. Both of Shakespear’s parents were engineers, and Shakespear, who has done both design and construction work, considered being an architect. That legacy is evident in the recent works, all of which are divided in a binary fashion into two adjacent rectangular panels. The paintings seem to be two monochromatic fields; “Long Point,” for example, appears to be an unambiguous juxtaposition of white and green rectangles. But the “green” section is composed of multiple layers of acrylic pigment, including ultramarine, red ochre, yellow ochre, burnt and raw sienna, each mixed with varying amounts of gloss medium and modeling paste. Applied with a trowel, brush, rags or the fingers over lengthy time periods, the layers are scraped with a knife to produce a final compound, highly translucent, glossy surface.
This process is not visible to the eye, but its tracings and pentimenti are revealed to the contemplative viewer. Shakespear’s paintings elicit this sort of meditative response, inviting the viewer to experience their metamorphic nature. Although Shakespear avoids literal figuration, he views the surface as a living thing. He cites Titian’s ability to conjure “the mysteries of the flesh” as a touchstone. He strives to treat the surface as if it were flesh; as something tactile, sensual and expressive. Rich with incident and intimation, these works have a vitality born of enormous compression.
Similarly, the drawing Shakespear embeds into the surfaces is at once elusive and involving. Shakespear’s imagery is not representational, not specifically organic, not cleanly geometric. Like the paintings’ surfaces, the drawing is filled with latent and transfigured meanings. In “Phase,” for example, the pod-like shape in the left blue panel suggests the organic world, especially seeds, fruit and fertility. But its ethereal blue setting and the nervous lines swirling around it suggest something cooler, perhaps interplanetary. The echo of this form in the right white panel underscores the notion of memory; the sense of motion and metamorphosis throughout implies that experience, memory and impression are constantly in flux, evolving with an inner life of their own.
These composite surfaces and images are culled from Shakespear’s well of experience. Extensive travel (including trips to England, Italy, Spain, Mexico, Siberia, and Japan), nature-oriented activities, plus “everything I’ve looked at for the last forty years” all find their way into the paintings, as if processed through “a giant funnel in the top of my head.” Shakespear’s “memory bank” is enriched by an idyllic childhood in Argentina, where Shakespear’s family lived until he turned seven. Shakespear remembers Buenos Aires as “a very beautiful world of parks, lagoons, outings and playing all the time, a kind of golden age of childhood.”
Shakespear has brought those idealized memories into the paintings, resurrecting in pictorial terms a golden world of sensuality and feeling. The paintings invite viewers to enter that world, where sensation and emotion are constantly changing, and constantly wondrous.
Shakespear in Love with
by Mary Sherman
April 25, 1999
As the work on view at the Howard Yezerski Gallery reveals, Paul Shakespear continues to produce some of the most enigmatically beautiful paintings in contemporary art. Suggestive fields of coloristic reveries, his abstract paintings are like luminous poems. Beneath their glassy smooth, densely layered surfaces, a sensitive, chromatic rhythm slowly unwinds.
Beginning with “Mar”s shifting permutations of red—seemingly cloaked in a veil of darkness—and continuing throughout his multipaneled paintings, Shakespear’s abstractions repeatedly produce a state of awe. The surface of his diptych, “Shift,” for instance, is a slow, pleasurable revery. White, branchlike forms eerily spread across one panel; on the other, a moody, verdant green shimmers. Together, the two create a distinctly rich counterpoint of moods.
Although abstract, the paintings seem inspired by landscapes—water, trees and forests. Nature’s unpredictability is evident in the panels’ revealing edges, where underlayers of paint are left exposed. These layered revelations also suggest a sense of geological time. In addition, with Shakespear’s reduction of imagery to fields of close-valued, palpable color, a sense of light—the passing nuances of either sun- or moonlight—reverberates within the paintings..
But, above all, a romantic impulse permeates the work, a taste for luxurious sensation and a lingering sense of distant memories—the kind evoked by specific colors, tones and shapes. The paintings intimate; they never declare. Playing on resonant sensations and painted with a highly refined sensibility, Shakespear’s paintings are a sobering reminder of the power of pictorial possibility.