Steven Shearer is a multi-media artist known for his interest in a particular type of turbulent youth culture and its barely controlled violence and raw social alienation—drawing out its many parallel connections with art history. This he incorporates into paintings, murals, photographs, billboards, collages, poems, videos, and installations.Read More
In 1991, Shearer studied in New York at the Alliance of Independent Colleges of Art (NASCAD) within their summer studio programme. The following year, he graduated from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver with a BFA.
Shearer likes to focus on the scrappy, raggedy side of contemporary pop culture, starting out as a photo-conceptualist but becoming a figurative painter who loves drawing and 19th-century painters like Edvard Munch, Gustave Moreau, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
Shearer likes to shuffle between art historical genres, sometimes creating dense conceptualist language works. While Poems XXXIV (2013) presents mash-ups of vitriolic heavy metal lyrics that to some are provocatively offensive, other works such as Mack & Pups Fundraising Print for LIV Venice Biennale (2010) depict images that to others are saccharine with an ingratiating popular appeal. Irony and humour can be discovered in both extremes.
Sometimes Shearer has not been able to anticipate public hostility. A 2020 series of seven untitled photographic billboards for Vancouver's Capture Photography Festival featured images—found online and in print—of people sleeping. These were replaced after community ire surfaced from passers-by who thought they were of corpses, drugged, or the homeless. The artist was in fact thinking of images of saints in ecstasy as depicted in Renaissance or Mannerist painting.
Shearer has a big interest in heavy metal culture and its impact on teenage masculinity, particularly Death Metal bands and their music obsessed subcultures, notably communities of androgynous, long-haired, adolescent males, of which he has produced many paintings and drawings. He creates these while remembering his own teenage years and the friends he hung out with. To this end he collects images from teen fan magazines and related music merchandising.
Shearer's painted portraits exploit the dark brooding colouration of early expressionists like Munch, but not the distorted graphic or compositional style: he is more tightly illustrative and formal, as seen in Night Train (2009–2010) and 1900 (2005). Shearer's crayon portraits, such as On a Pedestal (2013) and Clifford (2014), are carefully rendered, showing precise control over hair texture, falling light, and nuanced facial expression, and have a relaxed fluidity not found in the 'stiffer', more vertically aligned paintings.
That fluidity can become loose, even chaotic, and is taken to a more extreme degree in the works featuring collections of hundreds of juxtaposed faces and bodies that make up a densely seething soup of fandom desires. With these flickering rectangular aggregates of confusing and knowingly banal images, as in Sleep II (2015) or Womba Loom (2017), viewers have to stand close to comprehend Shearer's sociological interest.
As with a lot of art, Shearer introduces viewers to worlds they are often unfamiliar with, but which he pushes them to become curious about. Their fascination may be initially reluctant or tentative, but soon that changes when they begin to empathise with his enthusiastic discoveries. Conceptual links form between projects: between starkly austere texts and glowing, sensual images. A total holistic picture of a complicated but unified practice emerges.
Steven Shearer's solo exhibitions include Working from Life, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich (2021); The Late Follower, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, New York (2018); Steven Shearer, The Brant Foundation Art Study Center, Greenwich, Connecticut (2016); Steven Shearer: Wrong Reflection, Gavin Brown's Enterprise, New York (2013); Steven Shearer: Bad Run, Galleria Franco Noero, Turin, (2012); Steven Shearer, The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Toronto (2007); and Steven Shearer, De Appel, Amsterdam (2007).
Shearer's group exhibitions include 4th Canadian Biennial, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (2017); Altars of Madness, Casino Luxembourg, Belgium (2013); Canadian Pavilion, 54th Venice Biennale (2011); and Double Album: Daniel Guzman and Steven Shearer, The New Museum, New York (2008).
Steven Shearer's website can be found here.
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