In Devan Shimoyama’s latest series, Tarot, the artist takes inspiration from the centuries-old divination practice of card reading. The Tarot Series expands on the cards in the tarot deck known as the Major Arcana (or the 22 named or numbered cards in the pack). Contextually, Shimoyama is influenced by the popular Rider-Waite deck as well as the Tarot de Marseille, one of the oldest surviving tarot card patterns in existence today.
The Tarot Series references imagery and cultural symbols including astrological signs and natal charts, ancient pagan practices, Orisha gods and related spiritualities and mythologies. Tarot readings and pop culture from decades past are prevalent in this series and are reexamined through the lens of Shimoyama’s own process.
After a period of self-reflection during the pandemic, Shimoyama’s interest in mythological practices and symbols led to his 2021 exhibition, All the Rage at Kunstpalais Erlangen in Erlangen, Germany and more recently, Make-Believe at the American University Museum 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.
“The Tarot Series to me is a lot about self-reflection, indulging in my own childhood, the things that I really loved and that helped to form my own visual language, that I am still attached to today, with regard to materiality, references, and colors,” says Shimoyama.
His latest works are comparable to his prior series in their materiality, such as his long-established practice of using glitter, rhinestones, sequins, and bright vivid colors in his close-up figurations. The artist, here, expands on themes of self-reflection, alluding to the dialogue between superficial and true change on all levels, from the societal to the individual. These works, in particular, target the human desire to present ourselves outwardly as contained and perfect, while revealing how mystical practices such as card reading can help us adapt to tumultuous times. “There’s a mimicry of something really desired, but it’s fake,” says Shimoyama. “There’s a danger to that kind of thing.”
Devan Shimoyama includes small details within the series that aid in self-recognition of the transformations he, himself, has made. The cat-demon attached to the figure’s heel in Le Mat, (The Fool), for example, is an anime character named Kirara from the manga series Inuyasha. In the traditional Marseille Tarot Deck, the figure is followed by an animal that acts as a physical manifestation of the past, one that does not hinder the progress of energy towards the future. Le Bateleur, (The Magician), which would, in a typical tarot deck, have pentacles on the table has “Dragon Balls,” the titular artifacts–chrystalline spheres featuring five-pointed stars–from the manga series Dragon Ball. These symbolical characters and objects also go through stages of evolution, while their placement in Shimoyama’s works are a subtle nod to his youth.
Metamorphosis is also at the heart of Shimoyama’s new series of paintings. Mixed among the references to the Major Arcana, are allusions to influential pop-cultural figures from Shimoyama’s youth, such as Mystique, the blue-skinned red-haired fictional character from the X-Men superhero team in his work Self-Portrait as Mystique, 2022.
Similarly, Self Portrait as Katrina depicts the artist donning “the hair of Grace Jones’ character Katrina, a surreally artistic Vampire stripper in the film 1986 film Vamp.”
Shimoyama takes inspiration from the transformation sequences that are common among characters in comics series, such as manga. Through multi-panel compositions, these paintings portray figures in the midst of undergoing external and internal transmutation. Notably, Mystique in the Self Portrait as Mystique. This smaller selection of works within the series reference drag, idolization, queerness, and the celebration of transformation.
At Katzen Arts Center
Make-Believe, which opened at American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center in early September, 2022, explores artistic world-building and the crafting of alternate realities. The exhibition presents sculptures by Georgia Saxelby and paintings by Devan Shimoyama in the context of a post-pandemic world where fantasies and the imagination have played increasingly vital roles. Make-Believe considers the artists’ shared use of decoration, craft and visual pleasure, both using highly saturated, lustrous and reflective surfaces to blur the real and the imaginary.
At Kunstpalais Erlangen
Devan Shimoyama’s exhibition, All the Rage, at Kunstpalais Erlangen, in Erlangen, Germany was on view from June through November, 2021. The exhibition’s title, taken from the idiom meaning the current or latest fashion, implies a sense of ephemerality that inspired the artist as he considered how people construct their personal identities. The work references imagery and cultural symbols including astrological signs and natal charts, ancient pagan practices, Orisha gods and related spiritualities and mythologies, tarot readings, and even pop culture from decades past, reexamined through the lens of Shimoyama’s own process.