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Tony 'Doc' Shiels



Anthony Shiels was born in Salford, UK in 1938. After attending Heatherley's School of Art in London, he moved to St Ives, Cornwall where in 1961, following the resignation of Barbara Hepworth, he was made a member of the committee of the Penwith Society of Arts. In St Ives he ran the progressive 'Steps Gallery', where he showed artists like Brian Wall and Bob Law. He then had several solo painting exhibitions in London before leaving St Ives following a drunken incident, when he threatened police with real guns that he had obtained from painter-friend Terry Frost.

In the late 1960's after moving to live in Ponsanooth near Falmouth, he rediscovered stage magic - something he had been taught as a boy by his father and grandfather - and wrote articles for The Linking Ring and The Budget magazines. This included interviews with Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury. He also published a trio of magic books: 13, Something Strange and Daemons Darklings and Doppelgangers which, on both sides of the Atlantic, later established his reputation as the father of 70s Bizarre Magic.

Between 1970 and 1974 he performed as 'Doc Shiels: Wizard of the West' at festivals and fayres in Cornwall, UK. This, presented with the help of friend Vernon Rose and the rest of the Shiels family, was a magic show that incorporated illusions like the headless woman, the sub-trunk and the buzz-saw.

In 1975 he set up Tom Fool's Theatre of Tom Foolery, which started as a troupe of 'mummers', and worked closely with the famous Footsbarn theatre.

In 1976 he was involved with a series of 'monster-raising' exploits, which brought him extensive media coverage, particularly when he started 'invoking' the monsters with the help of a coven of nude witches. His attempts to 'raise' Morgawr the Cornish sea monster, were covered by BBC TV, Fortean Times, local news-papers, and appeared in national newspapers like Reveille and News of the World. At around the same time he reported on sightings of the now legendary 'Owlman' of Mawnan. In 1977 he obtained photos of the Loch Ness Monster which appeared on the front page of The Mirror newspaper. This and his associated 'Monstermind Experiment' featured in numerous other media outlets including The Daily Telegraph and Radio One's Newsbeat.

Alongside the monster-raising, Shiels continued to perform both as Doc Shiels and as a member of Tom Fools Theatre, and he wrote several plays including Spooks, The Gallavant Variations, Nightjars, Cloth Owl the Winking Curtain and Dr Beak Hides his Hands. One of his plays, Distant Humps, was co-produced by Ken Campbell and co-starred Christopher Fairbank. He also had other magic books published such as The Shiels Effect, Bizarre and The Cantrip Codex.

The extraordinary events of the 1970s and 1980s were covered in his own book, 'Monstrum', and in the 1996 book 'Owlman and Others' by Jon Downes.

During this period and in the years since he has continued to paint and have exhibitions. He considers himself an artist first and foremost, and his life's work to be a form of surrealism that he refers to as 'surrealchemy'.
Although his work can be seen to be part of a surrealist-dadaist tradition, it also anticipates post-modernism, and provides an important missing link between the modernism of St Ives and many later developments.



surreal poems: http://www.artcornwall.org/webprojects/Nnidnid_2&3.htm

Paul Francis memoirs : http://www.artcornwall.org/features/Paul_Francis_Memoirs.htm

Monstrum on amazon:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Monstrum-Wizards-Tale-Tony-Shiels/dp/1905723555