Photographer Tyler Shields, although still only 32, has already been compared to the incomparable Andy Warhol. The links are sometimes clear; both artists have cultivated a curious relationship with the media, with both harboring a playful fascination with the appearance of illusion. Both have an affinity with morbidity in their works; indeed, Warhol had such a fascination with death that he painted actual plane crashes lifted from newspapers, as well as electric chairs. Shields, perhaps even less restrained, appropriated the blood of 20 celebrities for a piece of art. And both, despite their mystery, violence and morbidity, have a repertoire of celebrity friends, fans, collectors, and adorers by their side.
But their work is vastly different. Shields’ photography has something of the divine about it. Heavenly figures that float, caress water, and reach out to the sky vacate his work. But there is also the sense of the temporal and of the realization that death is never far away; figures are captured, paused, flayed, as they fall to the ground from an unknown height. Most fall without context. We don’t see the crash, the unhappy landing. We see the anticipation of it; the dread. But it’s somehow beautiful. We see these bodies suspended before the moment of violence, staged managed in heightened theatrics. Will there even be a crash landing, or is this all just a fantasy, a toying with the illusion of death? We see our own contemplation of mortality given the aesthetic treatment, and we can see again the links with Warhol.
Yet despite the somewhat freaky nature of his art, Shields has established an enviable relationship with American celebrities. It was Lindsay Lohan who, seeing his work online, asked him to shoot her, which led to his fame. Shields, who started out on MySpace, is a true success story of the social media world, using online marketing and exploiting the nature of viral content to get into the public consciousness. Warhol, the great manipulator of the media, would have been proud.