Steven Shearer: About the desire to paint meat

September 14, 2021 by archyde

HInter Steven Shearer hangs a huge tapestry. On top of it an abstract form, a comet, a dark sun, maybe a virus, with a suggested face. The wool picture looks like a work of art from post-war modernism. There is eruptive joy, but also a cosmic horror.

From the spines or rays of this laughing or screaming planet face flows folky, spiritual energy that wants to establish contact, perhaps also to infect. Shearer will later relate that his mother, who studied art, knotted this rug in the late 1960s.

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It’s ten in the morning in Vancouver. It’s already getting dark in Europe when we talk on Zoom about his exhibition “Working from Life” in the Eva Presenhuber gallery in Zurich. Shearer is shy. There is no photo of him on the internet. Just pictures of his work, with which he became internationally known since he was in the mid-2010s Tate Modern in London or the New York New Museum and in 2011 played in the Canadian pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

There are drawings and paintings of androgynous, long-haired types from the death and black metal scene who dedicate themselves to suicide, death, horror and satanism in their music and art. And get serious too. The photo of the dead singer from the Norwegian band Mayhem, whose name was “Dead” of all things and who literally blew his head off in 1991, became the cover image of a pirated copy of an album by the band. Shearer used the bloody motif for his work.

Shearer’s a photo junkie

He comes from the environment of Vancouver’s post-conceptual art scene, which works with photography and film, “appropriates” and appropriates images from art history and mass culture. Stars like Jeff Wall and Stan Douglas emerged from it. Shearer is also a photo junkie. Early on, he created an archive with thousands of photos with “metalheads”, long-haired rockers, strangers from the Internet or drug-addicted teen idols like Leif Garrett (The Outsiders).

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Steven Shearer: About the desire to paint meat

He let them resurrect like hard romantic icons in prints and photographic works, filtered through medial and conceptual distance. Shearer also dismantled lyrics from metal songs, isolated words and created “satanic” litanies from wonderful word constructions such as “inspired by vomits of priest”, which he transformed into typefaces.

The big, unspoken question in Shearer’s work is what part does he play in it? Is it all art, or is he really living this life? This is what you want to talk about with the 53-year-old with his half-length hair and black glasses frame, who is sitting relaxed on the couch. Because that’s exactly what Shearer’s exhibition is all about, the boundary between life and work. But he prefers to talk about his brightly colored, illuminated pictures of long-haired artists and artisans who make pottery, chisel and paint.

Steven Shearer: About the desire to paint meat

Steven Shearer’s painting “Wizard” from 2020

Quelle: © Steven Shearer/Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York/Private Collection

Shearer’s painting style is reminiscent of symbolism, art nouveau, new objectivity and expressionism. He models his protagonists almost like a sculptor, builds them up on the canvas from countless layers, gives them depth, just as his protagonists shape their sculptures.

They are all creators: the cool bird-like sculptor on “Feathery Carver” (2020), the metal fan who urinates in a doorway on “Wizard” (2020) and is just creating a situation – sex or a brawl. And then in “The Late Dioramist and Sons” (2020) there is the late father who built dioramas and who himself became part of a diorama with his embalmed sons.

“This guy is made of color”

In Shearer’s pictures, it remains unclear who the work is, who is the creator. His protagonists look more dead than their sculptures. Her eyes are bloodshot, the skin glows with sulfur tones. “The painted figure is a portrait,” says Shearer. “I’m not trying to create a living image of someone. Why should you choose a meat tone there? This guy consists of color. ”

It is really the painting itself that interests him, he emphasizes. He is not religious, but of course fascinated by Christian and ancient painting. “I can do something with this desire to paint the flesh, regardless of whether it is some kind of sacred path or just the path of painting.”

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Steven Shearer: About the desire to paint meat

Exhume to Consume ”was the 2011 Shearer’s Biennale exhibition. Indeed, for him the act of painting has something to do with exhumation, with mortality. “The power of painting is to revive something from the past, just as a character from a painting made a long time ago is still alive to us,” says Shearer.

Steven Shearer: About the desire to paint meat

The artist and his dream: “Fathery Carver” from 2020

Quelle: © Steven Shearer/Courtesy the artist and Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich / New York/Private Collection

The revenants in his paintings look so undead because they are brought back from painting, film and art history. At the same time, something spiritual, perhaps demonic, is conjured up, the spirit that stares at us from the mask. The fact that Shearer’s face looks so strangely familiar is also due to the fact that it has appeared in his drawings and paintings from the very beginning. For example in the incarnation of the urinating, long-haired “magician” who also marks his territory.

“This kind of gender ambiguity is associated with symbolism for me,” says Shearer, “with the idea that an isolated figure occupies a space that it has projected itself.” So it’s almost like “becoming one create a small theater setting that expresses the mental state of the character ”. For Shearer, the androgynous figure in his painting always embodies a feeling of calm and inner balance.

Shearer’s paintings are conceptual and spiritual

In alchemy, the hermaphrodite symbolizes the union of male and female principles, from which the “philosopher’s stone”, gold, but also knowledge emerges. In CG Jung’s psychology, bisexuality embodies the holistic self. One can understand Shearer’s paintings as initiation images that are both conceptual and spiritual. They open the doors to the perception of painting, but also introduce psychological and magical processes.

They can be understood as comments on image production and reception, or they can be read intuitively like tarot cards, on which every color, every detail, every gesture has a symbolic meaning, but also triggers inner images when viewed. Shearer’s art actually leads into a dark realm, down into a kind of spiritual abyss, into a suicidal, psychedelic ocean into which we have to climb to find ourselves.

“The idea that I might end up as an artist is more magical than I could have imagined as a teenager. If I see that as a kind of creed, as a path that I take, as an attempt to express myself, I could already see a connection between art and magic. ”

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Steven Shearer: About the desire to paint meat

Shearer relates that the only art he saw as an adolescent was the drawings of long-haired men his mother made. How he then had to experience that she could not work as an artist after graduating, just as little as his uncle, who had since passed away, who also studied art and was transgender. He then later destroyed his entire work out of frustration.

Shearer shows the only painting he still found of him, a double portrait of two women charged with personal stories. It’s brilliant. It breathes the same spirit as the mother’s black sun and Shearer’s own art. “My uncle’s picture helped me take the first steps in my own painting,” he says. “It indicated the way for me, gave me the belief that I would do something of my own.”

You can feel the visionary tradition from which it comes, which goes back a long way into the past. You feel that he does his art for his mother and uncle as well as for those who come after him – the outsiders, the doubters, the magicians of tomorrow.

Steven Shearer, „Working from Life“, until October 16, Galerie Eva Presenhuber, Zurich

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Natasha Kumar

By Natasha Kumar

Natasha Kumar has been a reporter on the news desk since 2018. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining The Times Hub, Natasha Kumar worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my