In Conversation: Devan Shimoyama at the Serlachius Museum

De Buck Gallery sits down with artist Devan Shimoyama to discuss his latest exhibition, Fade Cut, at the Serlachius Museum.

De Buck: Can you describe your inspiration behind this body of work?

Devan Shimoyama: This body of work started in 2017 when I was making the first barbershop paintings for my debut solo exhibition at De Buck gallery in NYC. Partially inspired by Kerry James Marshall’s 1993 painting ‘ De Style’ and partially inspired by my own experiences in Black barbershops as a gay black man. 

DB:  Which is your favourite piece in the show? Could you describe it and tell us the story behind it?

DS: I don’t necessarily have a favorite work in the show, although I tend to favor the largest work titled “Stay Still” just because it has a bit more environmental context in the background. They feel very much like they all complement each other and create an illusion of actual patrons in a barbershop receiving haircuts. The works come alive within the immersive wall and floor installation components, expanding the backgrounds in the paintings into the museum gallery space. Each painting is a portrait of a different fictional individual receiving a haircut and they cry crystal tears. Each character has the potential to have their own story behind their portrait. 

DB: How did your colour harmonies come about? What were you trying to communicate with the viewer?

DS: I have an intuitive relationship with color. In this work, I knew that I would imagine these characters existing in a fictional version of my grandmothers basement, where I often received my haircuts from my uncle as a child. Instead of going to a barbershop because of my own discomfort in those hypermasculine spaces, I would sit in the basement with faux wood paneled walls and get my hair cut in a safe space where I was comfortable. The colors in the paintings are exaggerated colors from memory of that space and colors that would compliment that wood paneling. The colors hopefully communicate warmth, comfort, and joy, which perhaps contrasts with the somber tone to the crying characters depicted. 

DB: Could you tell us more about your process? How do you make the works and what were the steps in your process?

DS: I don’t like to give away many detailed steps of my process, as it is somewhat sacred, and always developing. But what I will say is that the works are all mixed media. I use colored pencil as a foundation for mostly every painting I make. Drawing and collage are integral to my process as painter, and from there I begin to paint and respond to the paint with other materials such as fabrics, beading, glitter, etc. I work on multiple works at the same time, usually about 3 or 4. That is because I’m often doing different parts of the process and always moving around to work bit by bit on each one. This allows a kind of process of act and response between paintings, and not just within each painting individually. So some paintings feel very deeply connected for me personally, in that they came into being as a group in my studio. 

DB: Can you expand on the theme of the barbershop and its relevance throughout your early practice to date? 

DS: The black barbershop has historically been a space for black men to come together, decompress, socialize, and discuss politics. Black men from many varied backgrounds coming together still happens in these spaces, however it continues to be a space that whether intentionally or not tends to feel less welcoming towards LGBTQIA+ or female identifying people. Hypermasculinity is often performed in these spaces, and creates an atmosphere that can feel unsafe for a queer or feminine person. I think black barbershops have the potential to continue being safe spaces for black men, but could certainly benefit from expanding the idea of masculinity and embracing it in all forms. This would provide a much more inclusive environment and build more outreach for important discussions surrounding politics, health and education within the black community at large. 

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