Over the years, Steven Shearer (Born in Canada in 1968) has become a figurehead in Vancouver’s rich artistic scene, which includes people as diverse as Geoffrey Farmer, Brian Jungen, Tim Lee and, from another generation, Rodney Graham and Stanley Douglas. In 2006, the MUHKA (Antwerp) dedicated an exhibition entitled Intertidal to the community, in which Shearer, of course, took centre stage, with about ten works. In 2011, the artist was selected to represent Canada at the Biennale di Venezia: his appearance, which did not go unnoticed, gave meaning to work inspired both by the “grand” history of art and the so often discredited subculture of the heavy metal music scene, whose origins go back to the early ’70s. Shearer expresses himself in a wide variety of ways – painting, drawing, sculpture, photocopying, digital imaging -, not to mention writing: in Venice, this was brought to life in a poem which adorned the nine-metre-high wall obscuring the façade of the Canadian building.
The artist is a bulimic collector of pictures, which he tracks down in old fanzines or on the Internet. Appropriation of pictures taken from popular culture, and their re-use for fine arts, is clearly not a million miles from Andy Warhol: it is a fully-fledged relationship, even going as far as loud colours, such as, for example, NRG 956K .Both for his subject and his technique (acrylic on canvas), the work could almost pass for a literal quote from Car Crashes. But unlike Warhol, Steven Shearer always refers to certain figures from a particular popular culture, rather than “the” popular culture. The crashed car belonged to Les McKeown, a member of the Bay City Rollers, whom art lovers likely to be interested in Shearer’s work would be forgiven for having largely forgotten them. All that is needed is for photographs to bear the group’s name as their legend: what is important is not so much their fame as the idea that people are copying them. The installations Clownin’ (2014) andBunching & Shading (2014) work in the same way: the identity of the groups or musicians is not important, so much as the aesthetics associated with recognising them.
Shearer’s attraction towards the rock scene typifies a more general interest in the theme of youth and adolescence, more specifically sexual identity as forged at that stage of development. A time of predilection for the artist, the ’70s epitomised the figure of the androgynous rock star, a sense of the era brought to us a few decades later by Marilyn Manson. Randy (2007) summarises elements of the stereotype in artwork which is both grotesque and humorous, whilst Guys & Dolls (2006) incorporates them in a composition which evokes both Bonnard and Munch or Toulouse-Lautrec.
Shearer’s adoption of a style inspired by the avant-gardes of the late 19th and early 20th centuries evoking contemporary subjects is probably one of the most acknowledged aspects of his work. Geometric Heading no. 7 (2004) demonstrates a more conceptual approach to the history of modern art: the artist has transposed reproductions of drawings of children, who have been asked, for therapeutic reasons (hence the title) to give their own interpretation of famous abstract works. Here, Shearer questions the use of art as a way of re-balancing an individual. Conduit Cell for the Elevation of Harmonic Alignment & Geometric Healing Model I (2013), which is the transposition into miniature (and in copper) of a large 2009 installation (Improved Geometric Mechanotherapy Cell for Harmonic Alignment of Movements and Relations), reflects in the same way. With their absurd titles, these sculptures, whose form evokes both the attraction of a playing field and the metaphor of a gas plant, are like tools designed by any pseudoscience, used to ensure social balance and harmony between individuals – if heavy metal is not enough to do this.