Devan Shimoyama's Fearless Paintings of the Queer Black Experience
The pieces are a remix of creation stories featuring young, black, gay men.
All images courtesy the artist
Young black males stand in the brash landscapes of color and visual flashpoints. Their bodies naked and nubile as they stand in contrast to a foreground of floating natural motifs and odes to the Garden of Eden. Devan Shimoyama, a Pittsburgh-based artist, tempers the unique experience of the queer black male through his fantastically bold canvases, which hint at the bold conceits of mythology and the brutal reality of coming of age.
In his pieces, Shimoyama strives for his characters to appear "desirous and desirable" by toeing the line between being plucked from a fairy tale and appearing as a neighbor boy from down the street. In a description to Creators, he describes the concepts at play, "They [my works] are wholly magical, yet universally human. The materials themselves become references to both gay culture as well as preexisting modes of storytelling. For example—black glitter becomes the nighttime sky, rich with constellations where we once sought understanding of our own existence; sequins become scales of snakes, often villainized in Christianity and various folklore/fairy tales, etc.; the collaged eyes of black women represent the love and care of the many Black women in my own life who have cared for me so tenderly."
What is clear from an aesthetic standpoint is Shimoyama's fearlessness with color and materials. His use of sequins and glitter bring a surface-level attraction to each piece, inviting deeper interpretations. The added use of dimension creates a striking contrast between dark and light layers, collaged realism and painterly abstract energy, emotional euphoria and reduction. The artist describes his silhouettes as "bursting with divine ecstasy," even as many of the figures hide their faces or shed endless tears.
His pieces exhibit a disarray while forming an electric balance among layers. It is indicative of the artist's choice to opt for less of a "crisp or polished style," and more of a raw and unfiltered aesthetic.
He says, "I definitely love work that is loud, direct, confrontational, bright, celebratory, strange, narrative. But also work that when totally stripped of all that noise, really has something to say; work that truly comes from the heart and maybe less from the head."
Currently, the artist is working on a new series honoring the black males who are victims of police brutality, incorporating velvet hoodies and rhinestone swing sets. Shimoyama lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and received an MFA in printmaking and painting from Yale University in 2014. He currently teaches art at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.