Devan Shimoyama’s textural paintings are bursting with sequins and small moments from the everyday
The Philadelphia-based artist talks us through his intricately composed paintings, in which he intends to solely depict a “positive image of Black people”.
- Ayla Angelos
- 2 July 2020
Having grown up in a household where his grandfather often had band practice, Philadelphia-raised Devan Shimoyama had been surrounded by the joy of creativity. His mother, too, went to school briefly for fashion design, which engendered in him a keen interest in drawing and classical music. “I was lucky enough to have support in whatever creative avenues I wanted to pursue,” Devan tells It’s Nice That. “One of my closest friends, Chamar, is an incredible artist who inspired me growing up, and I learned so much from seeing so many of their beautifully detailed portraits.”
Based in his hometown of Philadelphia, Devan studied painting and printmaking at the Yale University School of Art, only to deepen his adoration for the arts. A few years down the line and he’s now had work shown across the board in solo and group exhibitions in New York, Pittsburgh, Chicago, San Francisco, and Denver, among others. He also cites Kerry James Marshall, Wangechi Mutu, Mickalene Thomas, Henry Taylor, Kaye Donachie, and Lisa Yuskavage as references. “I also find my inspiration from a multitude of things, ranging from interpersonal relationships, religion, mythology, fairy tales, comic books, anime and drag.”
A typical pre-lockdown day for Devan consisted of staring, planning and audiobook listening – fantasy novels, in particular, like the Brandon Sanderson’s Starlight Archive series – and following a somewhat linear and structured methodology. “Much of my painting process must be done in a paint-by-number way, since I’m using so many varied materials that need their own contained zones,” he explains.
The studio that he works out of also has plenty of skylights, meaning that his preferred working hours of midday through to the evening are fuelled by an energising burst of sunshine. As for his materials, he tends to use oil paint, fabrics, jewellery and coloured pencils. “Shopping is also a huge part of my practice,” he says, “as I use so many readymade materials. It’s important to have them on hand in the studio so I can just reach and grab for the right colour or texture.” Sometimes, for the more large-scale works, Devan will pre-plan the composition on Photoshop or collage for a more meticulous starting point.
Meander through Devan’s portfolio and you’re greeted with an array of wildly colourful, intricately composed paintings that are bursting with day’s light. Much of his work isn’t made with a narrative in mind, rather he thinks of the work as compilations of small moments or “fragments” of the day. “And none of my sculptural work really fits into the category of narrative, either, as they’re more like symbols or spontaneous memorials.”
Recently, Devan created a piece that’s part of a newer body of work. Titled La Lune 2019, it takes its composition from The Moon tarot card, where he’s “replaced the coyotes with [his] own dogs and the figure is a self-portrait”. Crafted from coloured pencil, oil paint, rhinestones, jewellery, collage and sequins attached to the canvas, he adds: “I’ve been thinking about this wave of Black mysticism and magic becoming popularised, embraced and celebrated.”
As a whole, Devan intends to solely depict “positive image of Black people” throughout his artistic creations with an aim to “uplift and imagine bright futures”. As with many, the pandemic has currently forced the artist to rethink his usual ways of working. Some projects, too, have fallen through, but rest assured, he’s looking forward to an upcoming solo exhibition in Germany next year, as well as sharing a further body of work that’s currently in the early stages of development. “I’m creating my own fictional early 2000s girl group,” he concludes, “and creating their album art, magazine covers and music. We’ll see when I’m to show that work; it’s a slower process as it requires so much world building.”
Devan Shimoyama: Sit Still
About the Author
Ayla is a London-based freelance writer, editor and consultant specialising in art, photography, design and culture. After joining It’s Nice That in 2017 as editorial assistant, she was interim online editor in 2022/2023 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. She has written for i-D, Dazed, AnOther, WePresent, Port, Elephant and more, and she is also the managing editor of design magazine Anima.