ARTerrain: An Architecture of Paper + Tape: Collages on Glass by Stuart Shills

An Architecture of Paper + Tape | Collages on Glass

By Stuart Shils

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Introduction by Stuart Shils

Standing at the window holding scissors and paper I’m aware that there is a specific, measurable distance between me and the building over there. This distance has a particular mass and visual weight that seem to speak to the size and placement of my body, and I’m getting to know the whole configuration, including a piece of sky and tree, by way of repeated approach. This looking is not passive but more like kissing someone.

My perch is an alcove in my kitchen. Behind me is a three-foot square table covered with various kinds of paper and a digital projector for using at night. On the windowsill are numerous pieces of cut and torn paper in small piles, residue of this and other attempts to improvise a graphic story on the window that is primarily about my engagement with it over time.

Morning window with paper and string (work in progress).
Morning window with paper and string (work in progress)

I’ve moved into a new apartment and am sniffing out opportunity just as my dog does when she comes into the room. I’m making this place mine by standing at the window as if doing morning or evening prayers and placing shaped paper onto the glass, building constructions with cut or torn pieces and tape, and sensing/judging/feeling how they relate to the forms beyond them across the yard as well as to each other on the window. It’s like being inside an evolving painting.

It’s a constant game of building up and breaking down, and now these constructions exist only in photographic documentation. Their now-vanished presence is found only in digital files in my iPad.

Not so many years ago I was an outdoor painter of naturalistically descriptive “landscapes.” Now I draw on glass using paper and tape searching for the emotional architecture of the moment. But this new work has roots in the long-ago. How could I have foreseen as a child that a very ordinary routine like accompanying my mom on errands would offer a window that would be both life-changing and a lifeline?

I’d often go shopping with her, sometimes waiting in the car while she ran in for something. Sitting alone in the front passenger seat looking out the window was like floating in a temporal, magical enclosure, especially when it rained. Maybe it was the sound and feeling of insular comfort on those rainy days that made me choose to stay put because those are the times I remember most. Beyond, the physical world dissolved as the water ran rhythmically and slowly down the glass, holding my gaze in the parenthetic grip of a sustained moment, like being inside the magical snow globes at my grandmother’s apartment that I used to shake and peer into.

Much of the Choir Under Snow, a Few Birds Still in the Suburbs
Much of the Choir Under Snow, a Few Birds Still in the Suburbs

Decades later, dug into formal visual education (several years in architecture school and then art schools), I came to appreciate my eyes as active not passive windows or viewfinders, whose job it was to parse the atmosphere of light-space, the physical world of architecture and nature beyond my eyeballs, as if it were a palpable text.

Engagement with the visual arts offers a path for relearning how to take notice of what is right in front of the eyes in the moment. It helps me recognize how to wake up and pay attention to seemingly small, quiet, and simple things. So now, 63 years into my life, paper on glass makes a lot of sense. I tell my students that school is not for learning “how to” make art or forge a “career,” but about cultivating a quality of enhanced alertness. This is true for those of us who make objects and for those of us who accept and pursue them for personal nourishment. What we do with our eyes all day long really does matter.

ARTerrain Gallery 1 by Stuart Shils
An Architecture of Paper + Tape | Window Collages

All collages were constructed on a 31″ x 31″ windowpane.

Images in this gallery may not be copied or otherwise used without express written consent of the artist. Click image to view in larger size or to begin slideshow:

ARTerrain Gallery 2 by Stuart Shils
An Architecture of Paper + Tape | Light Table Collages

All collages were constructed on LED screens and measure about 11″ x 13″ or 12″ x 12″.

Images in this gallery may not be copied or otherwise used without express written consent of the artist. Click image to view in larger size or to begin slideshow:

About the Artist

Stuart Shils and his dogStuart Shils painted outside and looking through windows for 30 years but now is in the studio with an eye tuned to mining his visual memory by way of cut and torn paper arranged on windows and LED light tables. He also makes monotypes. Recently, he made improvisational window collages by day and night for a year, shaping conversations on the kitchen window that now exist only by way of photo documentation.

His work has been presented in solo shows in New York, Philadelphia, Tel Aviv, Boston, Scottsdale, Stuttgart, Los Angeles, Richmond, San Francisco, and Cork (Ireland). Critical reviews and commentary have appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, The New York Times, The New Yorker, The New York Sun, Ha’aretz, The Jerusalem Post,, The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Boston Phoenix, Philadelphia Inquirer, The Irish Times, Art in America, New Republic, The New Criterion, Art New England, American Artist, and The Hudson Review.

Beginning in 1994 he spent 13 summers working on the northwest coast of Ireland, an extended painting campaign described in the PBS film documentary, Ballycastle.

Shils is a weekly critic to advanced students at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, where he also teaches studio classes, and he offers three-day master classes in observation and observational painting in various parts of the country.

Find more of Stuart’s work at

Header image: “Typing Notes to a Two-Year-Old I’ve Never Met,” by Stuart Shils. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.