Devan Shimoyama is a visual artist working primarily in self-portraiture and narratives inspired by classical mythology and allegory. He depicts the black queer male body as something that is both desirable and desirous and explores the mystery and magic in the process of understanding his origins, and investigating the politics of queer culture.
Shimoyama was born in 1989 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and graduated from Penn State University in 2011 with a BFA in Drawing/Painting. He received his MFA from Yale University School of Art in Painting/Printmaking in 2014. While there, in 2013, he was awarded the Al Held Fellowship.
Devan Shimoyama’s work showcases the relationship between celebration and silence in queer culture and sexuality. His compositions are inspired by the work of classical painters such as Caravaggio and Francisco Goya, while adding a more contemporary expression and sensuality. With the use of a variety of lustrous materials such as jewels, black glitter, rhinestones, and sequins, Shimoyama creates works that capture the beauty and alienation of the Black queer body.
It was in his junior year of college that Shimoyama began taking painting more seriously, and began using unconventional materials. “I started using objects from my own childhood,” said Shimoyama. “Things with a certain luster or polish to them, thinking back to China cabinets and these little beautiful encrusted plates. Creating that fiction of glamour, of decadence, of wealth is something heavily engrained in drag culture that always fascinates me but it’s also heavily engrained into Black culture.”
“Reading list for black futurity—what might it contain?” asks art critic and curator Antwaun Sargent in his write-up for The New York Review of Books examining some of Shimoyama’s themes. “The paintings in Devan Shimoyama’s “Shh…,” a small recent show at De Buck Gallery in New York City, offer some recommendations. Each of the six large glittering collages, painted in oil and acrylic and adorned with the artist’s signature rhinestones, sequins, and fabrics, shows a lithe harlequin figure with bejeweled, searching eyes. Some are self-portraits or portraits of friends and acquaintances, others are completely out of Shimoyama’s imagination. All of the figures are portrayed with books by various writers in everyday spaces made spectacular with a liberal use of glitter and costume jewelry that give texture to the scenes’ surfaces.”
Devan Shimoyama’s works have travelled throughout the United States. His latest solo show, ‘Counterfeit Gift Wrapped in Fire’ is currently on-view at Kavi Gupta. He recently had his first European solo museum exhibition at Kunstpalais Erlangen, in Germany.
The Philadelphia-born artist artist joined five other artists commissioned to create installations for FUTURES. Shimoyama’s site-specific installation The Grove is now on view at the Smithsonian Institution’s Art and Industries building. The work was made in celebration of the Smithsonian’s 175th Birthday exhibition, ‘FUTURES‘, which asks audiences to consider how art and technology continue to shape our world.
Shimoyama was also included in the Columbus Museum of Art’s Scantland Collection. A private collection considered to be one of the most dynamic young collections of contemporary visual art in North America.
Recently, Shimoyama’s work was included in the exhibition Garmenting: Costume as Contemporary Art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York. The exhibition features the work of artists using clothing as a medium for visual art. His works are also featured at the exhibition Not Me, Not That, Not Nothing Either at the Leslie Lohman Museum of Art.
Shimoyama’s works are also on-view at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), in San Francisco. Elegies: Still Lifes in Contemporary Art presents the work of fifteen international contemporary artists connected to black figuration. The Brooklyn Museum acquired one of his works for their public collection in early 2022 as well.