Steven Shearer’s exhibition gives an audience insight into a private world realized and documented through the obsessive collecting of images. Shearer’s collecting focuses on music, heavy metal in particular—a preference that resonates in the city of Birmingham, birthplace of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.
In Metal Archive (2001), raw, edgy images of old eight-tracks, stereos and guitars, all found on-line on eBay, are collaged together in a sort of giant bulletin board, much as one might see on a teenager’s wall. As a youth, Shearer began collecting such images from fanzines. Initially used as studies for his work, they eventually took on a life of their own; indeed, they have now become the work. Massed on the wall in uneasy confrontation with one another, the photos address issues of teen culture, gender, taste and class.
Toolshed (2003) offers another glimpse of the elusive teenage world. In the piece, a prefab tool shed stands in the gallery while a surging riff played on an unseen guitar reverberates through the space. The only indication of the source of the sound is a brilliant shaft of light emitted through a crack in the shed door. The reference is perhaps to one of the bands that Shearer himself started in his youth, deep in the adolescent space of his family basement.
The ink-jet print List (2004) comprises an A-to-Z of the musical sub-genres of death and black metal, listing the titles of albums, live recordings and rehearsal tapes. The inclusion of text in Shearer’s ongoing series of drawings Poems is very cerebral, but also beautifully formal. Shearer considers these works to be sculptures, hanging them in groups of three, five or seven.
Swinging Lumpen (1998) confronts you with the grainy image of two young men, one giving the finger to the camera. It’s somewhat like Richard Hamilton’s Swingeing London 67, which shows Mick Jagger and Robert Fraser handcuffed and shielding their faces from the press after a drug bust: same formal frontal pose of the protagonists, same in-your-face attitude. Another room holds recent drawings and paintings, and one is mesmerized by their stylistic diversity and resonances. Smoke (2005), though drawn in ballpoint pen, a medium typically favoured by teenagers, echoes Munch and the Symbolists. Larry (2005) offers the Fauves’ heightened colours in the service of post-1960s psychedelia.
With a wailing guitar in one’s ears, one is reminded of The Future Is Unwritten, the recent biopic on the Clash’s frontman, Joe Strummer. Its title applies to Shearer too, who fulfills his great promise as he manages to write our recent past from the most unlikely sources.