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.”
Shimoyama’s work has been exhibited throughout the United States. His 2018 exhibition Cry, Baby at The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, which was Shimoyama’s first solo museum exhibition, charted the artist’s burgeoning career and ever-evolving practice. The exhibition brought together key examples of the artist’s painting, photography, and sculpture and depicted two distinct worlds, on the one hand, an enchanted paradise, and on the other, a queer imagining of the African American barbershop.
The show also included a special section that paired Shimoyama’s painting with a selection of works from Warhol’s Ladies and Gentlemen series, his portraits of trans women and drag queens from 1974. The pairing revealed new perspectives on Warhol’s practice, embracing contemporary debates about identity politics, gender and sexuality in addition to issues of racial violence and tension in the United States.
“He’s working in a long history of painters that have come before him that have brought light to Black protagonists in painting into a canon that doesn’t necessarily have the Black protagonist as the main figure in painting,” said Jessica Beck, Milton Fine Curator of Art at The Andy Warhol Museum. “What Devan’s doing now is creating a space to also embrace an alternative perspective on that race. Queering of that identity. Bringing in the feminine. Painting the flesh in different colors…. Challenging and complicating our ideas around race and identity in a really productive way.”
Watch the video below to hear further insights on Shimoyama’s practice and to hear Beck discuss why Devan’s work was the perfect choice to bring into conversation with Warhol’s.
Devan Shimoyama also has an upcoming solo exhibition in Europe at the Kunstpalais titled “All the Rage” from June 19 – November 14, 2021. Click HERE to read more.
De Buck Gallery is pleased to present an exclusive look at Dizzy Spell, 2021, a painting released in celebration of a project Devan Shimoyama is doing in association with Art For Change and The Brooklyn Museum. Hand-embellished limited-edition prints of Dizzy Spell will be available for purchase on the Art for Change website launching May 18, with their newsletter subscribers getting early access at 10am followed by a public launch at 1pm. $500 from each print purchased will be donated to the Brooklyn Museum. Click HERE to get early access or purchase your print.