Pilgrimage: 40 Small Paintings: Mark Shields

24 September - 17 October 2003


"We spend our lives forever taking leave"

R. M. Rilke


Rilke knew what it meant to be always departing. He could identify with "the wanderer who, halting on the hill from which he sees his native valley the last time, turns around and lingers."ii When do the wanderer's steps become those of the pilgrim? Pilgrimage has the holy place as its end, yet it may involve no physical journey. Sometimes it is the journey of life itself. It may also seem to us as a kind of return. The Lost Son of Christ's parable begins his pilgrimage in earnest when he has' come to his senses' and makes for home.


How frequently in Homer's great tale of odyssey, do the characters refer to 'the return'. A constant exhortation never to forget. "The return must be sought out and thought of and remembered;” iii like Israel's need, after forty years of wandering, to remember the return to 'the land of their pilgrimage'.


"Memory truly counts - for an individual, a society, a culture - only if it holds together the imprint of the past and the plan for the future, if it allows one to do things without forgetting what one wanted to do, and to become without ceasing to be, to be without ceasing to become." Iv


As in earlier times, when one may have withdrawn into I solitude to meditate on a devotional page from a book of hours, or to contemplate in intimacy symbolic elements; so perhaps in such a way these paintings of pilgrimage may also function; as a means by which the journey may be recalled, by which those who have gone before are brought near, and from which bearings may be taken for what lies ahead.


They represent still moments and silences in the life of every day, a private theatre where the beyond shimmers in the atmosphere. "There are elements of deeper gravity in a single moment of repose than in a whirlwind of passion": Such hushed moments point out to us "the uncertain, dolorous footsteps of the being as he approaches or wanders from his God." Vi


That there should be something of the sacred about them is not surprising. "The religious life does not curb, rather does it satisfy the poetic craving, while, at the same time, leaving a sufficient margin of uncertainty, mystery and darkness to maintain that element of disquiet without which there could be no art, if... every great work is an attempt to provide an answer to that 'What are we? Whence do we come? Whither are we going?' ..."vii


i Rainer Maria Rilke, Eighth Duino Elegy 11 Ibid.

iii Italo Calvino, Why Read the Classics? iv Ibid.

v .Maurice Maeterlinck, The Treasure of the Humble vi Ibid.

vii Fran_ois Mauriac, Memoires Interieurs


Mark Shields