A response to Steven Shearer’s work at the Venice Biennale
By Mary Anne Goley
My visual response upon entering the Canadian pavilion of the 54th Venice Biennale was visceral, not unlike getting an infusion of oxygen. I had just come from the American, German, Czech/Slovak, and French pavilions. Enough I thought of the mélange of artistic choices: art of association, installations, assemblages, found objects, “art as architectural environment,” and the ubiquitous use of photography in any form. It was refreshing to be reminded of the fundamentals. Surrounding me was the art of pure painting executed with a deft hand in command of the expressive power of line.
It may be odd to those who have followed Steven Shearer’s work, to characterize it as a breath of fresh air given its dark side and its so-called heavy metal energy, but in the context of the Biennale it was a return to basics in all aspects, from a formal and technical point of view to the choice of subject. Long live art for art’s sake!
A figure painter and draftsman, Shearer’s subjects suffer—lean of stature, youthful, eyes sunken, often hiding behind a long mane of hair. Theirs’ is the dark side. Self-destructive, tortured souls, near death, the occult, are words that have been used to describe Shearer’s work along with an affinity to the art of the Norwegian, Edvard Munch. While obvious, it is meant in the best possible light, for Shearer is his own man.
I accept the emotive nature of his message on face value. I do not need to have the “metal aesthetic” explained to me to feel empathy for his subjects. His is a humanitarian truth that is timeless and will resonate long after the “metal energy” of the 1980s from which his aesthetic issued forth. His message of empathy resonates with me in this place, Venice, and at this time, a time of my introduction to his work in 2011.
Mary Anne Goley is a noted art historian who served from 1975 through 2006 as the founding director of the fine arts program of The Federal Reserve‘s board of governors in Washington, D.C. She was published in the Wall Street Journal and The Art Newspaper and will have articles in forthcoming issues of Antiques Magazine and APOLLO as well as being the author of numerous Books and Catalogues on Art and artists. She is the prime authority on, and is currently compiling the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of, the works of John White Alexander (1856 –1915). She lives in Washington, D.C. Ms. Goley has agreed to be an occasional guest blogger for Diane Farris Gallery.