Steven Shearer’s work draws on various styles of figurative painting throughout history, song lyrics and archived images. He collects images from fanzines, websites and newspapers that lend his otherwise formal subject matters a contemporary perspective. In recent years he has begun to explore text through his Poems series, and he continues this in Venice with a nine-metre high freestanding mural on the exterior of the Canadian Pavilion.
Can you say a little about how this work came about?
Many artists have responded to the architecture of the Canadian pavilion as if it was something to overcome or ignore. Originally, it was designed as an intimate space to exhibit paintings, drawings and small sculpture. I wanted to respond to the original intent of the vision of the architects and to integrate the kind of work I do into that space. I’d wanted to do a show that focused on my paintings and drawings for a long time so this seemed like a good opportunity.
Do you feel there is a pressure involved in being the individual chosen to represent your country on an international platform?
There is pressure to have your work communicate to a broad audience when it is exhibited in such a public venue, even when the work doesn’t necessarily do this. If I responded to this pressure, I wouldn’t be showing what I’m showing.
You use a lot of imagery and language from Death and Heavy Metal in your work, which on the surface people could perhaps read as angry and hostile, you’ve said in the past that you don’t believe that’s the case. Can you say why?
I think that people recognise humour in the Poems. People have told me that they find them to be affirmations. I think that this comes from seeing something made public that is usually invisible or obscure. The poems are really antagonistic and expressive – and people seem to really identify with the lack of that kind of presence in public artworks.
You use a wide variety of source material in your work, from images found online, collaged newspaper and magazine cuttings, and song lyrics. What is it that fascinates you most about this ‘found’ imagery?
The material I collect is motivated more by my subjective response to it than by the personal narratives behind the various photographs and clippings I collect. I am interested in how found imagery can transcend itself and reflect something that I relate to.
Throughout your career you have amassed a digital archive of photographs and texts that you then use as a starting point for your drawings and paintings. How important is the internet in conceiving your work?
The internet is just one part of my work and I consider other influences such as art history to be equally important. I was collecting magazine and newspaper clippings and using found photographs in my work in the same way that I use images from the internet, long before the internet appeared as a source.
You’ve used text in several drawings and wall paintings in the past, such as your Poems series, can you talk a little bit about your decision to show a mural on the Canadian Pavilion in Venice?
The Poem murals are my only public work to date. I am not really inclined to do other public works. The mural I made for Venice is part of a nine-metre high, free-standing architectural façade that reacts to the scale and authoritarian aspects of the design of the adjacent pavilions. While I have created murals of my Poems in other cities, this is the first time that the Poem will be on a custom-built structure instead of being painted on the wall of an existing building. The antagonistic and bombastic tone of the Poem is meant to act as a social leveller, as it calls for the destruction of all things equally. Since it relates to the scale of the surrounding architecture, it also responds to the dominant and mannered energy of the surrounding architecture.
Are there any projects, aside from your own, that you’re particularly looking forward to seeing whilst in Venice?
I am looking forward to seeing all the projects.