Devan Shimoyama (b.1989) is a visual artist who works primarily in painting and self-portraiture, with works inspired as much by classical mythology as by the culture of his youth. Through his depictions of the queer black male form, Shimoyama investigates the politics of queer culture while navigating his own personal narratives.
Using a variety of materials and methods, Shimoyama 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 Goya, while adding 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.
Most recently, the artist has created a series based on the major arcana of the Tarot deck. Each work in the Tarot seriespresents an episode of transformation and alludes to the dialogue between true and superficial change, whether at the individual or societal level. These works in particular target the human desire to present ourselves outwardly as contained and perfect, while revealing how mysticisms such as card reading can help us adapt to tumultuous times.
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.
Shimoyama’s exhibition Cry Baby, 2018, at The Andy Warhol Museum was the first solo museum exhibition for the artist, and featured a special gallery that staged his work alongside portraits of drag queens from Andy Warhol’s Ladies and Gentleman series, helping the overlooked subjects of Warhol’s portraits to reclaim agency and visibility. In 2021, Shimoyama’s installation, The Grove, was commissioned by the Smithsonian Institution for Futures, an exhibition celebrating the institution’s 175th anniversary.
Further recent major exhibitions of Shimoyama’s work include Untitled (For Tamir), a single work exhibition in 2023 at The Rockwell Museum, Corning, NY, USA; an exhibition in 2022 at the Akron Art Museum associated with the FRONT Triennial; Black Gentleman and Midnight Rumination, an exhibition at The Regional, co-organized by the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH, USA and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MO, USA; Elegies: Still Lifes in Contemporary Art, a group exhibition at the Museum of the African Diaspora, San Francisco, CA; Garmenting: Costume as Contemporary Art, Museum of Arts and Design, New York, NY, USA; All The Rage, Kunstpalais, Erlangen, Germany; Tell Me Your Story, Kunsthal KAdE, Amersfoort, Netherlands; Getting to Know You, Cleveland Institute of Art, OH, USA; Fictions, The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York, NY, USA; and Translating Valence: Redefining Black Male Identity, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids, MI, USA.
Shimoyama’s work is held in private and public collections nationwide. In 2022, the artist’s work was added to the collections of The Rockwell Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. In 2021, his work was included in the Scantland Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, a collection of some of the most dynamic and thought-provoking artists working today.
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 2019 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.”
In 2022, Shimoyama’s work was exhibited in Make-Believe at The Katzen Arts Center, the FRONT International 2022: Cleveland Triennial for Contemporary Art, Elegies: Still Lifes in Contemporary Art at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and Garmenting: Costume as Contemporary Art at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
His installation, The Grove, was shown at the Meridians Sector of Art Basel 2022. That work was originally commissioned and conceived as a site-specific installation for the Smithsonian Institution’s 2021 exhibition FUTURES, which celebrated the institution’s 175th anniversary and asked audiences to consider how art and technology continue to shape our world. For The Grove, which was created in response to the tumult and tragedy brought on by racial violence and the COVID-19 pandemic, Shimoyama invited viewers to enter a meditative forest-like space to forgive, breathe, pause, and heal.
In 2022, Shimoyama work was added to the collections of The Rockwell Museum and the Brooklyn Museum. In 2021, his work was included in the Scantland Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, a collection of some of the most dynamic and though-provoking artists working today.
In 2023, Shimoyama will have his first solo exhibition in Malaga, Spain at the CAC Malaga, and at the Rockwell Museum, in Corning, New York.
Over the past few years, Devan Shimoyama has been working on his Tarot Series, a body of work that identifies transformation and alludes to the dialog between superficial and true change in all levels, from societal to individual interactions. These works, in particular, target the human desire to present outwardly as contained and perfect, while revealing how mysticisms such as card reading can help them adapt to tumultuous times.
Shimoyama takes inspiration from the centuries-old divination practice of card reading. The Tarot Series expands on the major arcana and is contextually influenced by the well-known Rider-Waite and Marseille tarot decks, though his collection in his studio includes many more variations as well as oracle decks.
The artist’s interest in mythological practices and symbols led to his 2021 exhibition, All the Rage at Kuntspalais Erlangen in Germany and more recently, Make-Believe at the Katzen Arts Center in Washington, D.C. Here, characters in changed positions and gender represent the major arcana, mythological creatures, and embodiments of meditation while, in a more general sense, explore the crafting of alternative realities.