Philadelphia Native Shimoyama is now based in Pittsburgh, where he teaches at Carnegie Mellon University. A Yale M.F.A. graduate, his paintings borrow materials from drag culture—glitter, feathers, and rhinestones—and explore issues related to race, masculinity, and illusions of wealth. His debut solo museum exhibition, Cry, Baby, is at the Andy Warhol Museum through March 2019. Come back to GQ Style tomorrow for the second installment of “Fresh Paint.”
GQ Style: How did you arrive at your painting style? What factors influenced your development most?
Devan Shimoyama: My painting style came about from my love of experimenting with all kinds of materials, drag culture, and fashion. I remember when I was first starting to paint, I was fascinated by how unconventional painting materials would mix together to create these psychedelic, shimmering encrusted spills. I’d play around with spray paint, quick-dry enamel, and fabric dye. Those eventually led to my interest in other unconventional painting materials that are much more in line with what drag performers use to get a look together, like rhinestones, glitter, feathers, et cetera, which they’re using to create the illusion and fantasy of a wealthy, beautiful fictional character.
What is your latest body of work all about?
The last solo exhibition I had was titled Sweet, which was exploring the toxic masculinity of black barbershops. More recently, I’ve begun a body of work where I am depicting black individuals tending to their homes and thinking about the importance of black ownership, whether that ownership is businesses, properties, et cetera. I just have been thinking about the importance of people of color actually being able to have more agency and not become such easy targets for displacement and gentrification.
What’s something you’d like to do as an artist but haven’t yet?
I would love to actually collaborate with a fashion designer and create a line. I love fashion so much, and I would be completely invested in creating everything, even creating custom fabrics and accessories. I think that designers like Kerby Jean-Raymond from Pyer Moss have found a really nuanced way to intersect art, activism, and fashion in such a smart way.
What do you do when you need a break from making art?
I need mindless activity. I hang out with my two dogs (two Cavalier King Charles spaniels, named River and Bowie), or I play mindless games like Stardew Valley or watch guilty-pleasure reality-TV shows.
What do you wear when you paint?
I normally wear either a pair of denim cutoff shorts and a tank top or my bright red Dickies short-sleeve coveralls. I also always wear my Blundstone Chelseaboots as my painting shoes. They’re covered in all kinds of splattered paint and glitter.
Who was the first artist that really blew your mind? And who was the most recent?
Wangechi Mutu is the first artist that really blew my mind. I was completely fascinated by her use of ink and collage to make these explosive, hybridized characters that were so indomitable in spirit and strength. Most recently, my best friend, Haley Josephs, has blown my mind pretty consistently with her new work. The colors, the power in the women she’s depicting, and the fantastical reality she creates never fail to impress me.
Beyond the basic tools, what things do you need in order to paint?
I need to always have jewelry, glitter, rhinestones, and fabric, but also I need to listen to something while I’m working. Depending on what I’m working on, I need to play a good album that matches my mood—currently listening to Kelela, SZA, Blood Orange, and Aminé on rotation.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received from another artist?
Josephine Halvorson gave me some of my best studio visits while in grad school at Yale, and I remember her telling me that she could tell when my work was coming from a place of love and talking about love and that there was strength in that. I’ve kept that in mind ever since, always making sure to make art from something real and true and significant and from a place of love.
If you’re at a party and a new acquaintance asks what your work is like, what do you say?
I’d say that I make mythological, epic fantasy-figure paintings with drag-queen materials. That’s my elevator pitch!