STEVEN SHEARER at the Power Plant (231 Queens Quay West), to February 10. $5, stu/srs $3, free Wednesday 5-8 pm. 416-973-4949. Rating: NNNN
In Steven Shearer’s retrospective at the Power Plant, he turns his trained eye on the idols of his adolescence, on the “proletarian folk art” of the heavy metal and arena rock subcultures.
The effect is familiar yet unsettling. Anyone who grew up in the 70s and 80s remembers the ultra-macho, cross-dressing allure of hair metal and anthem rawk that arrived in a cloud of Aqua Net and screeching guitars to fill stadiums and parking lots.
No single approach dominates Shearer’s work, and his range is vast, including collage and mixed media. His romantically stylized paintings of young metalheads hover uncomfortably between Edvard Munch and the kitsch of thrift-store paintings.
In fact, they extend the aesthetics of metal into the formal history of painting, bridging a weird gulf in the process. His Renaissance- style renderings of metalheads in red conté crayon are just as improbable, yet they end up ennobling his subjects.
Shearer’s “metal archive” prints do the same thing with collage. These accumulations of tiny images posted online by metalheads reveal themes on closer examination. One set consists of wasted and passed-out buddy photos; another is devoted to smoking. As a meticulous archive of a cultural era, it reframes whole categories of suburban experience.
This is especially true of his printed silkscreens of death metal lyrics. Vomitous outpourings of morbid romantic despair, they look downright sober printed white on black.
In this context, not growled out over an amplified storm of drums and guitar, they seem almost poetically solemn.
The humour and effectiveness of Shearer’s transpositions arise from his restrained, nostalgic and parodic approach to metal culture. He’s made it approachable, even if you’ve never banged your head.