Multi-talented playwright, musician, magician, author and artist Tony Doc Shiels began painting his idiosyncratic “sea heads” more than half a century ago, and is still doing so.
He says that his surname is an acronym for the Sea Heads In Elemental Locations Scheme and describes a typical sea head as being “round with open eyes and mouth, wind-tugged hair and medusoid tentacles, salty beard and filamentary sea legs”.
“It contains the essence of Poseidon and all things maritime,” he continues.
“And has the power to strangely attract sea serpents and all manner of maritime marvels. The primordial sea is the source of life, and the sea head represents the vital force.
“It was never deliberately invoked or invented, it simply thrust itself into my thinking years ago and has been part of my surreal ‘vision’ ever since.”
A Lancashire lad with close Celtic connections, his mother was Scottish and his father Irish, the thirty or so “raw magic” paintings that make up the current exhibition at the Fernlea Gallery in St Ives demonstrate what an accomplished, innovative and imaginative artist he is, while providing the public with a chance to see what they have been missing.
Now living and working in Ireland, Doc Shiels studied in Blackpool, London and Paris, before moving to St Ives in the late 1950s.
Viewing works like Sea Tail, Sea Head Inis Mor, Lytham Lass and Study For Yet More Trouble, leaves one in no doubt of his stature as a painter.
“The concept of artist as seer is mistrusted or ridiculed by many,” he said. “Authentic art is often confused with artifice and some creators – myself included – are regarded as bamboozlers, or worse,” he said. “Some are inclined to cry ‘hoax!’ when faced with a genuine work of raw magic. They don’t know what they are missing – and probably never will.”
Tony Doc Shiels’ Sea Heads & Other Works is at the Fernlea Gallery in St Ives, open daily from 11am to 5pm until September 12. Admission free.