Trevor Shimizu’s Painter Persona Spoofs Masculine Ideals of Artistic Genius
By Emily Watlington for Art in America
November 20, 2019
Throughout his expansive body of work, New York–based artist Trevor Shimizu has been “willing to reveal highly personal and potentially shameful things” while simultaneously “cultivating a Fantasy Self—an ideal self-image.” I’ve excerpted those characterizations not from a piece of art criticism but from a description of Type Four individuals, one of the nine categories defined by the Enneagram personality test popularized in the 1970s. Shimizu’s exhibition “Performance Artist,” opening this month at Kunsthalle Lissabon in Portugal, includes a new work titled Personality Research Center, comprising a collection of slides and printouts dedicated to understanding his Enneagram type—also known as “The Individualist.” This is the artist’s second work in this format; he more typically makes paintings or videos.
Famous Fours highlighted in Shimizu’s “research center” include Vincent van Gogh, who inspired Shimizu to become a painter: the artists share a birthday as well as a personality type, plus Shimizu’s grandparents had a dog named van Gogh. Fours’ greatest fear is that they “have no identity”; they strive to compensate for “negative self-image and chronically low self-esteem.” Countless fantasy Trevor Shimizus have appeared in the artist’s work over the past two decades: for example, a sex symbol in the painting Self-Portrait Asian Heartthrob (2008), a tech bro in the “Lonely Loser Trilogy” videos (2013), and a decadent late-career artist in the “Made by Assistant” paintings (2013). Shimizu’s paintings typically illustrate a scenario, and the title often gives as much information as the rendering. The Japanese-American artist considers Molly Ringwald (Self Portrait) (1999) his first performative self-portrait. Shimizu painted himself as Anthony Michael Hall, with Molly Ringwald looking at him lovingly—a nod to the duo’s performances in John Hughes’s films Sixteen Candles (1984) and The Breakfast Club (1985). As Shimizu told me in his Queens studio this past August, he identified with Hall’s nerd characters, though Hall never won Ringwald’s favor in either. At least, he related to Hall more than the off-putting Asian stereotypes in Hughes’s films, as he noted to C. Spencer Yeh in an earlier interview. Even in his fantasies, Shimizu’s ambitions are often more banal than wondrous.