"This piece was inspired by the view of an urban garden on Capitol Hill in Seattle, through a wrought iron fence. Often, I feel we rush past these sights, barely acknowledging them. So, I wanted to take a moment and really take it in. Sketching in paint, I soaked the canvas in water and began to slowly differentiate flowers and leaves. I wanted to accentuate their relationship to each other. Showing this entire world of organic matter that was existing in the totality of itself, rather than just some flowers meant to decorate a courtyard. The surrounding building and fence I wanted to be very cursory, sketched in and flat. Giving primary attention to the poetry of the garden itself. Decoupaged medical text is hidden in the leaves."
- Ian Shearer
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“Recovering from a stroke and learning to navigate life with the deficits you are left with is unbelievably difficult physically, emotionally and mentally. When I finally was able to hold a brush it gave me the strength to go on, because I knew I had something to communicate.”
Ian’s art aims to help the viewer to feel, remember and connect, no matter their background and experiences. Born in upstate New York, he grew up acting, dancing, and drawing. He pursued his creative interests at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. After graduating with a degree in graphic design and illustration, he went on to become a display designer in Seattle, decorating lobbies of buildings and malls with Christmas decorations and suggesting the most impactful art for a space.
This all changed when Ian experienced a stroke in 2018. Waking up without the ability to walk, write, speak or perform basic tasks, he felt extremely defeated as he faced a grueling, long recovery process. However, Ian shares that during this time, art saved his life. When he regained the ability to paint, he rediscovered an avenue to communicate meaningful messages to others.
Ian explains the transformation that occurred in this time, sharing “the neurological damage caused by my stroke had arguably the most dramatic effect on how I physically paint as well as what I paint and why. When I was able to paint again my entire process, imagery and technique had completely changed.” Before the stroke, Ian strived for visual accuracy. After, he became enthralled with how things feel, visually and emotionally. Contemplating how the brain works, how memory and expectation inform how we see, and how the brain analyzes value, pattern, perspective fascinated him. “When my brain became damaged, I started seeing things from a new perspective,” he describes.
Much of Ian’s work explores disability and how he has had to adapt to his new reality. His stroke causes neuro-fatigue, aphasia which affects one’s language comprehension and expression, as well as sensory processing issues and sensitivity to light. His painting style reflects this with drippings that are symbolic of the “static” of aphasia and the lack of muscle control of dysarthria and apraxia; while simultaneously creating sensations of vertigo. Patterns within the drips are highlighted or darkened to resemble MRIs and angiograms.
In 2021, Ian began decoupaging bits of his medical notes into his pieces, often reversed and hidden within signage or blended into the backgrounds. These hidden messages are representative of invisible disability: no one can tell what someone goes through just from appearance. This rings true for Ian, who experiences many jarring internal sensations as a result of his stroke.
“As a disabled, gay artist, I can try to communicate my experience, to show my way through it. And someone can connect with a piece, and although their life experience may be completely different, they can resonate with it because they too have experienced profound beauty, hope, pain, trauma, hopelessness, joy.”
Ian’s favorite compliment is when someone enthuses "I know this night!". Not this street or building but this feeling, this moment. “Those are the times I know I have done my job,” he says. His scenes are able to connect to individuals from all walks of life. In addition to being a disability and visibility advocate, Ian is passionate about feminism, supporting gay and trans rights and people of color. He dreams of sharing his art with many communities, breaking down stigmas and stereotypes, teaching a class, as well as traveling to do site specific work.
“Visibility is very important to me. One of the functions of art is storytelling; to provide witness, connection, and a way to move forward. It is vitally important for disabled artists to have a voice and it is often categorically ignored by the art world. For so many, disability will be a profound life change eventually. Ableism is a gift with an invisible expiration date. It is imperative that we provide navigation and witness to the pain and joy that is part of that story.”
Check out this video from Films About Artists featuring Ian Shearer, his story, and his artwork:
ArtLifting champions artists impacted by disabilities and housing insecurity by connecting their art with socially-conscious customers . Learn more here.