Steven Shearer (b. 1968) was born in New Westminster, Canada and lives and works in Vancouver. He studied at Emily Carr in Vancouver (1992) and at the NASCAD New York Summer Studio Programme (1991).
Steven Shearer has become well known for his paintings and drawings, photo collages and text based works. His pieces construct a consistent dialogue between his upbringings and that of early 1970s pop and heavy metal, as he draws on themes of adolescent rebellion, frivolous energy and teenaged boy angst. Bubbling beneath an iconic aesthetic surface, his world is one of alienation from and a repulsion towards everyday existence. Focusing on a melancholic vision of youth, the heroic protagonists of Shearer’s works are prefab boy bands, amateur glam-rockers and guitar-wielding teenaged suburban dreamers. He is disinterested in the fame of his stars, finding more inspiration in their downfalls. As manifestations of the artist’s own suburban youth, by depicting these subcultures he aims to reveal the vulnerabilities and anxieties of the teenager; characteristics which have still not quite dissipated well into adulthood.
Shearer explores the delicate rock patriarchy of the 1970s with tender drawings and intricate paintings. Often considered to represent a morbid and misogynistic ethos, what theorist Andy Brown calls a “collective investment in fantastic masculinity”, Shearer counters this damningly negative portrait of metal culture. For him it is a musical genre whose iconographic and romantic components are compensatory for the working class upbringing in the lives of their – largely white – audience.
Often using only a ballpoint pen, the subtlety and precision with which he places lines upon paper is reminiscent of Pre-Raphaelite imagery. Juxtaposed with vivid, neon colours, Shearer assumes the role of the talented but despondent kid at the back of the class who uses drawing as a means of escaping immediate reality. Describing his use of the Bic, he surmises that it grants him access to a psychological state of adolescent ennui – a way to imagine himself (or other teenagers) attempting the effects of chiaroscuro with a ballpoint pen, inevitably doomed to fail. Consequently it is not the violent, aggressive connotations which make these images so attractive, it is the sincerity of Shearer’s fine-tuned draughtsmanship which facilitates the viewer’s ability to discover themselves in the experience of others.
It is not surprising that Shearer’s own personal attachment to heavy-metal is stressed in articles and interviews; he was a fan and amateur musician in his youth. This affiliation of the artist allows for an attractive autobiographical reading of his oeuvre as a lengthy and unremitting act of self-portraiture.