Steven Shearer

Steven Shearer


Focusing on Vancouver artist Steven Shearer's recent works, this major survey includes key pieces from the past decade.

Curated by Helena Reckitt

Vancouver artist Steven Shearer is well-known for his works dealing with the cultures of, and the links between, youth, heavy metal and the avant-garde. His sculptures, prints, collages, paintings, and drawings approach class, gender and alienation with a keen sense of absurdity that is rarely applied to such subjects. Focusing on recent works, this major survey includes key pieces from the past decade.
 
Shearer's works derive from material that he collects in an extensive image bank or archive. Comprised of some 36,000 digital images, clippings, Xeroxes, reproductions and found snapshots, the archive falls into eccentric categories – from 1970s teen idols to Black/Death Metal bands to children's play structures. Shearer applies a form of visual rhyming and punning as he recycles these images. Teasing out formal associations among pictures within themes, he reveals unexpected, frequently hilarious, affinities. In the ink-jet print Metal Archive Study (2000), his first piece derived from the Internet, Shearer grids hundreds of digital images of Black Sabbath merchandise registered on eBay. Traces of an unmade bed or carpet samples at the edge of the print hint at the working-class domestic origins of these pictures. Regarding Black Sabbath paraphernalia as a form of proletarian folk art, Shearer appreciates the "aesthetically fugitive quality" of such amateur documentation.
 
Confusing the autobiographical and the anthropological, Shearer sometimes includes images of himself in his work. Boy's Life (2004), a collage that evokes the bedroom wall of a 1970s metalhead, features a snapshot of the teenage artist in KISS makeup and regalia. This personal touch highlights Shearer's strong identification with his subject matter. His work often performs the tension between youthful rebellion and the social forces that constrain it. Drawn to scrappily resistant forms of expression, Shearer celebrates the anger, aggression and creativity that bubble beneath the surface of polite society. Like other Vancouver artists before him, he revels in the detritus of everyday life, associating discarded objects and degraded media with social outsiders. His mural, billboard and poster poems inspired by scatological and blasphemous heavy metal lyrics and song titles present visions of the nihilistic sublime that would be disturbing if they weren't so entertainingly hyperbolic.
 
Shearer's roots in figuration come out in this exhibition's numerous portraits. These vivid oils and ballpoint pen drawings of androgynous longhaired men reference Symbolist and Fauvist art as well as seventeenth century realism. Teasing out art historical resonances within contemporary social realities, they exemplify Shearer's statement: “I am interested in the times I'm living in and in the way the past echoes in them.”
 

A fully illustrated catalogue, designed in close collaboration with the artist, accompanies the exhibition. The first major publication devoted to Shearer's work, the catalogue includes essays by Nancy Tousley, Nigel Prince and Helena Reckitt, and an introduction by Gregory Burke, director of The Power Plant and Jonathan Watkins, director of Ikon Gallery.
 

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