Robert Shields (courtesy photo)
World-renowned artist and actor Robert Shields, a resident of Clarkdale, recently joined the Hart of Arizona Art Gallery in Old Town Cottonwood. Gallery owner Viki Norris will host a meet and greet with Shields and other local artists at the gallery on Friday, February 18 from 4-6 p.m.
While Shields emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a pop culture icon for his street mime performances in San Francisco and later as one half of the “Shields and Yarnell” duo with their own television program, he says that he has always been an artist at heart. .
“I was an artist long before I was a mime,” Shields said. “I had my first art exhibition at 18 and was an assistant instructor in a ceramics class in high school.”
In 1987 Shields moved to Sedona and fell in love with the Southwest and its unique art forms.
“I discovered Southwestern-style art and drove it crazy,” he said. “I was one of the first to take traditional Southwestern icons and turn them into something else. I’ve done things like a kachina robot and bunnies in cowboy boots.
Shields creates metal sculptures, paintings and collages that are bursting with vivid color, life and creativity. His art has a whimsical feel and he has added hearts, dragons and abstract shapes to his repertoire in addition to animals, birds and plants that reflect his southwestern home.
Shields had five stores of his own, including one located at the “Y” in Sedona.
“My work was exhibited in national parks and resorts in Phoenix, Tucson, New Mexico,” he said. “I used to do a lot of wholesale shows and other art shows.”
But a combination of personal tragedy and the 9/11 disaster caused him to rethink his life and artistic pursuits.
“Everything changed after that,” Shields said. “So I bent over and simplified. I don’t even do art shows anymore. My work is in galleries and online and that’s it.
His prolific body of work can be attributed to his frenetic energy and boundless creativity.
“I’m in my paint shop working all the time,” he said.
As for joining the Hart of Arizona Art Gallery in Cottonwood, Shields sees Old Town as a booming neighborhood in the Verde Valley.
“At the time, nobody wanted to live in Cottonwood because they thought that was where you were going to marry your sister,” he said with a laugh. “But now this is the place that’s happening.” Old Town Cottonwood is constantly growing with the arrival of new stores, galleries, wineries and restaurants. It’s very exciting and people are starting to find out. There’s a really good feeling there.
Shields has also participated in two documentary projects about his life as an actor and mime. He is often credited with creating the modern version of the dance known as “Robot”. While Michael Jackson brought the dance move to popular culture in the 1970s, Shields says Jackson learned from him. “He used to come to my house to learn the robot,” Shields said.
Mark and Christine Bonn directed and produced the film “Robert Shields: My Life as a Robot” which showcases Shields’ career as a mime and artist and his influence on the dance world. He once opened for the Rolling Stones and performed for two US presidents and Queen Elizabeth. He also appeared as “The Mime” in Francis Ford Copolla’s 1974 film “The Conversation”, starring Gene Hackman.
The documentary’s release has been delayed due to COVID-19, but the producers are looking forward to seeing it on the film festival circuit in the near future. Shields said another film about his life as an artist is in the works by local documentarian Douglas Chester.
Shields joins nearly 50 other Verde Valley artists who are members of the Hart of Arizona Art Gallery, located at 1017 N. Main Street. The public is invited to the free meet and greet event on February 18 from 4-6 p.m. Shields will be there along with many other artists whose works are on display in the gallery. Refreshments will be served. For more information, call 928-202-4551 or email [email protected] Robert Shields’ work is also available online at RobertShields.com.
Cindy Cole is a freelancer for The Independent. She is a writer, editor, photographer and artist. Contact her at [email protected]