Representing real

Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art showcases David Shevlino’s intriguing space between realism and abstract


David Shevlino doesn’t have much use for labels, and maybe that’s for the best. His genre of artwork isn’t terribly easy to define, but grips the viewer nonetheless.

Shevlino’s exhibit at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art opened Jan. 2—the second exhibit of the new museum and the first to feature a single artist.

A soft-spoken man who carefully considers his words, Shevlino has exhibited and taught all over the world. He likes that WMOCA’s exhibit displays a wide range of his work. Some pieces are within a few years old; others were painted more than 20 years ago. Commercial galleries generally are interested only in an artist’s latest work because of course they want to sell it. It is a business, after all.

So WMOCA’s exhibit allows Shevlino to display his work’s evolution that are evident in a walkthrough with him. The North Carolina artist was trained in the very traditional style of painting. About 12 years out of art school, Shevlino explains, he did something of a turnaround, delving into the very abstract. An example he points to shows what appears to be a lake scene with a large abstract figure in the middle. Then there are examples of his earlier style, such as a few paintings that show a traditional looking pastoral scene.



These paintings are in the opening room, as you walk past the reception desk. The real meat of the exhibit is in the main gallery, featuring Shevlino’s more recent work, and pieces that really captures one’s attention. “There is traditional realism and abstract painting,” Shevlino says about the two overarching categories in painting. “But there is a lot in between.”

Shevlino’s artwork blends elements from both. In some of his paintings the abstractions are almost reminiscent of cubism. In one of the paintings he highlights, for example, the figure’s face is obscured and distorted, but that doesn’t detract the viewer from seeing that it is a face. In much of Shevlino’s recent work, the abstract representation only illuminates the essence of each figure. It’s as if one is viewing a scene through a rain-spotted window, and the figures have more emotionality than if they were painted using a photo realism.

Shevlino met WMOCA Director David Hummer when Hummer attended one of his workshops a few years ago in Tennessee, and Hummer later told him about the museum he was planning. “I said ‘let’s do it,’” Shevlino says. “I’m willing to go anywhere where there are people who want to be taught… [and] definitely willing to come when David offered this opportunity.”

The David Shevlino exhibit runs through March 30. The Museum of Contemporary Art gallery, free to the public, is open Tues.–Sat. noon–5 pm. Located in downtown Wausau, at the corner of Fourth and McClellan.