Kavi Gupta presents We Named Her Gladys a solo exhibition of new work by Devan Shimoyama, whose recent debut museum exhibition, Cry, Baby, at the Andy Warhol Museum, was acclaimed by The New York Times, GQ, Hyperallergic, and many other critical voices. For his inaugural solo exhibition at Kavi Gupta, Shimoyama presents a bold new body of painting and sculpture inspired by his evolving connections to identity, ancestry, community, and the definition of home.
Shimoyama recently became a first time homeowner, purchasing a 1926 Craftsman home in the borough of Brentwood on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. Says Shimoyama, “The house is made of a classic, golden yellow brick that was developed in Pittsburgh. It’s a very Pittsburgh house.” Since moving in, tiny moments of discovery both inside and outside of the house have pulled Shimoyama backwards in time, moving him to grapple with the mythos of ownership, the discovery of secrets, and the ways history intertwines and negotiates with the present. Says Shimoyama, “This body of work has grown out of me thinking about how significant and important it is to own where you live; to maintain and tend to it. Many young people, especially young people of color, shy away from home ownership. This is negative in a lot of ways.”
In many of the paintings, Shimoyama’s own body appears as a shamanistic figure, connecting what is “real” with hints of the unseen world. One painting portrays Shimoyama in his back yard covered in weeds. He has stopped what he’s doing to pick up a dead baby bunny. Another refers to his discovery of evidence of a past fire in the attic. Inside this haunting visual realm it is always twilight. A gradiated sky suggests both morning and night, pausing history to interrogate the vitality of the moment. Says Shimoyama, “I feel like I travel back in time to experience these moments, to digest these events; to become one with the ghosts that are in my home.”
Among the works Shimoyama created for the show is a new sculpture: an adorned, a-frame swing-set with three seats, encrusted with silk flowers and jewelry. This iconic work embodies Shimoyama’s uniquely thought-provoking brand of conceptual purism: simplified forms collaged with eye-catching materials packed with inferred meaning. “Mixed media allows me to be more direct,” he says. “A lot of the materials I use are ornate, bought at stores where you would buy couture gowns, or where drag queens might buy fabric to construct a fantasy. There’s content in those materials, specific to different memories and experiences and messages. I’m thinking about branding and culture and peacocking – how what you’re wearing reflects some kind of status of yourself. The materials reflect how I think about constructing identity, and possibly code switching from era to era.”
Essential to Shimoyama is that viewers see his work in person. He chooses materials partly for their ability to interact with light as viewers walk by. Colors and textures change as sequins gently flutter, constructing an experience that is both concrete and ineffable. Also important to Shimoyama is that viewers retain their subjective agency, especially when it comes to his material choices. “Readymade materials trigger different messages to different people,” he says. “For example, wood paneling for me is nostalgic, but many viewers express much different reactions to the material. Or when I had my exhibition surrounding a barbershop, people who had the same types of experiences as me understood certain nuances in the materials that related to masculinity, gender, and sexual identification. Other people experienced the work differently. It started a dialogue, which I think is the best thing that can come of it. I don’t need everyone to understand my point of view, it’s just nice to start a conversation.”
Born in 1989 in Philadelphia, PA, Devan Shimoyama graduated from Penn State University in 2011 with a BFA in Drawing/Painting before going on to obtain his MFA at Yale University School of Art in 2014. During his time at Yale, Shimoyama was awarded the Al Held Fellowship. Since graduating Yale he has had residencies at Fire Island Artist Residency in 2015, the La Brea Studio Artist Residency in 2017, and most recently The Fountainhead Residency in 2018. His work has been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States.