Making Headlines: Tyler Shields
Tyler Shields, coined as the Andy Warhol of our generation, simply explains his newsworthy influence by sharing “I have been able to make headlines just from making art the way I wanted to.” Known for his provocative photographs – from setting a birkin on fire to having a model jump off a roof, Shields continues to test the waters amongst his viewers. What was once jaw dropping to his audience a few years ago has now become comfortable common ground for collectors and media outlets alike, proving that perception and acceptance is constantly shifting. Even so, Shields continues to break norms by producing photographs that leave people thinking and reinterpreting the scenes through their own experiences. Similar to a good movie, his images have the power to tell a story that surpasses what can be seen on the surface.
“That’s what Warhol did. He showed you celebrity like you had never seen it before, and even in today’s world of media obsession that is something that is hard to do, Warhol said in the future everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, well the future is here and anyone can be famous, but if everyone is famous.” – Tyler Shields
The comparison to Andy Warhol goes far beyond his visionary approach as an artist. Warhol was able to understand celebrity and pop culture by making his art represent the face of society. Warhol’s most iconic pieces are intimate portraits of cultural icons including Marilyn Monroe, Jackie O, and Mick Jagger. Similarly, Shields’ brings viewers into the world of celebrity by building a trust with his models to create an authentically raw and sometimes unplanned moment.
Amongst some of his most popular work is his Mouthful series, where he explores the different expressions of the lips. By leaving out all other features of the face, the is stripped down to one simple focal point – the mouth. With it taking more muscles to frown than to smile, the mouth is a powerful tool to read a person’s expression, even when words are not involved.
This past February, one of Shields’ pieces from the series, Mouthful, was auctioned at Sotheby’s for over twice its original selling price. The photograph combines 16 individual shots, each with a different motion and expression. This collage is different to Shields’ usual approach of just getting one perfect shot by challenging himself to be satisfied with all 16.
Beyond his headline catching moments, his photographs are also recognized for their surreal elements. Yet, Shields holds himself to the standard of no photoshop, relying solely on himself and his lens to click at just the right moment. This can be seen especially in his recent 2019 releases, notably a seemingly black and white image with red lipstick, where he only uses makeup and lighting to achieve the selectively filtered effect.
This surreal quality is also found throughout his recent Fairytale series, where he recreates Dorothy’s Ruby Red slippers, photographs a lion from only a few steps of distance, and plays with sparkles to create glitter champagne. On the making of the series, he shares how magic can only happen if you let it, and that’s exactly what happened here. Most people would jump to the conclusion that filming with a live uncaged Lion is dangerous, and almost impossible, but for Shields this is just another day of making magic a reality.
This mindset is one that vibrates throughout all of his work, and what brings his models and subjects to feel comfortable to add their own touch and personality to every headline worthy moment.