Critics’ Picks

Steven Shearer, The Collector’s Visit, 2019, oil on canvas, artist frame, 22 x 19 3/8".

Steven Shearer, The Collector’s Visit, 2019, oil on canvas, artist frame, 22 x 19 3/8".


Steven Shearer

Galerie Eva Presenhuber | Waldmannstrasse
Waldmannstrasse 6
September 4–October 16, 2021

A portrait is always a paradox of power. The depicted and the depictor; embedded Ozymandias truth or propagandistic lies. Much recent figurative painting has sought, admirably but with some obviousness, to invert and destroy the genre’s entrenched hierarchies. More subtle is Steven Shearer’s examination of portraiture through the lens of those who construct and consume it. The fourteen oils on view in “Working from Life” each depict a solitary artist, collector, or classical bust. They are layered in their prisms of lurid color emanating like gemstone fire and in the dynamics of power they assess and knowingly inhabit. In the exhibition’s titular painting, 2018, an intense closely cropped face, with Pete Davidson eyes and pillowy lips, is crossed by a brush touching canvas. The viewer is thrust into a sitting, intimate but unrequested. The Collector’s Visit, 2019, shifts to the artist’s perspective, the tight face and sideways stare signaling elitist discernment and dom desire. Sharing the portrait is the upper part of a small sculpted figure, perhaps a new acquisition, fingers wrapped neatly around its neck. In these pictures, Shearer invites one into a system of usage and exploitation as well as one of admiration, passion, and support. His earlier works, with their fanboy interest in 1970s stars and long-haired bandmates, long flirted with the erotics of homosociality. In his painted treatises on the contradictions and allurement of male power in the art game he sensuously confronts all positions in a pyramid of privilege. It reminds of a too oft-repeated quote by Oscar Wilde about sex.