photo by andre bathalon
if you live in montreal, there’s no question that you’ve come across jason botkin‘s work. even if you don’t know his name, you’ve seen his work scattered around alleyways, buildings, across the ceilings in bars and venues, or painted on that trailer outside of st laurent metro. as the co-founder (along with tim barnard) of montreal-based art imprint EN MASSE, botkin and his crew’s elaborate black and white murals can be found in every nook and cranny of the city, slowly but surely adding life and soul to the urban landscaepe we encounter every day.
a little gem that LNDMRK created with jason while on location in miami
jason presented his solo exhibition, ALL KIN, at the LNDMRK yves laroche gallery last month – his first foray into colour-based art in over a decade – and i was lucky enough to attend the vernissage. i’ve been an EN MASSE follower for some time now, so i was exceptionally interested to see what jason had come up with. i arrived at the gallery just after it opened its doors, and already people were flooding in to witness his creations. the small space was packed wall-to-wall with people, but i was still able to get a good look at every piece. colourful painted creatures stretched floor to ceiling, wisps of their hair trailing behind them, fingers reaching towards the furthest corners of the room. a series of sinuous, abstract pieces made of stacked plywood hung deliberately on the far wall, seeping into gallery wall that was likewise painted to be a part of the show. at the back of the room, a small staircase was electrified with another creature, this time dark and looming, surrounding the stairs to create an eerie tunnel illuminated in red. at the front of the room was a DJ booth, and just behind near the window, a wall entirely covered in individual plywood masks, each painted with a different but altogether surreally beautiful scene. so many colours!
needless to say, i was pretty in awe of the whole thing. full disclosure, i’ve never been to a vernissage before, so i wasn’t too sure what to do with myself. mostly i stood around gawking attractively at the immense amount of work that every almost every inch of the gallery. the rest of the crowd seemed equally stupefied by the display. i could easily find the influence that the EN MASSE project had on ALL KIN, though it was subtle, i felt the same sense of wonder at getting completely hypnotized by the dynamic of each piece. i left the vernissage with all kinds of questions floating around in my head. maybe that’s what’s supposed to happen when you experience art in that way, but i decided i had better have a chat with jason to find out more about the exhibition.
thanks so much for taking the time to chat! so, tell me about ALL KIN. how did the project come about?
i’ve had the pleasure to work with the guys of LNDMRK many times in the past through the EN MASSE project. andre bathalon and yan cordeau (currently joined by nico munn rico and alexis frossart), were the driving force behind the now defunct safewalls project, via cirque du soliel. very active promotors and supporters of montreal’s underground artistic community, i was thrilled when they approached me to take part in this new initiative with them. a rare opportunity to settle down for a bit and focus on my own shnitz!
your show was stunning – the overall sense i got from the vernissage was very otherworldly, unearthly, abstract, especially the masks. so colourful. did you have a “theme” in mind?
i’ve always been drawn to the theatricality of marionettes, puppets, and especially masks. these ‘second skins’ that you saw at the show embody very interesting ways of addressing personal and shared identity. the way we use online phenomena such as facebook could be considered a ‘mask’, as we reflect on and create the public face we want the online world to see, both in truth and fiction. masks allow us to change identities and assume new personalities. i think we all feel a deep need to change ourselves and the environment around us.
otherwise, the circus freak-show-esque elements of ALL KIN give me a chance to explore a different sense of my self. not necessarily a ‘truer’ sense, but one that is at least often hidden away from sight. this is also the first large body of work that i’ve ever done in colour in ten years of practice! that says something!
so the main influence for the show was the mask or the persona…where else do you find your inspiration?
i’m really influenced by the work and ideologies of 20th century mexican muralists, actually. recent trips to detroit and miami crystallized these ideas in practice for me, as i was profoundly moved by the raw potential of the underground arts and contemporary muralism to generate dialogue and change across social and cultural dynamics. there’s some pretty amazing business happening out in the streets
tell me a bit about what it was like putting the collection together. you had some serious large-scale installations happening at the vernissage – the tunnel creature at the back of the gallery in particular was amazing. how did you manage?!
putting together this body of work was a blast! it’s always exhilarating to dive so deeply in the studio. i created that big character in the back with help from my brother (trevor) and jeremy shantz (an amazing local artist) in the span of a long day. we flew only by the seat of our pants through the whole process…best way to go!
how long did it take you to put this all together? i can only assume it was many months!
actually, the production schedule on this was insane. everything was created in the span of one month.
just one month?!
yeah! in fact, my first day of work began officially on december 31st. i slept most nights on the floor of the gallery, and logged in nearly 20 hours a day…it was an intense ride to say the least.
what about the raw materials you used to create the actual pieces? i noticed a lot of natural materials, plywood etc…you also painted directly on the walls, which (to me at least) was quite peculiar. a good mix between “construction” and “creation” if that makes sense.
right. all of the works were created on plywood/press-board, except for those parts of the installation that bled directly onto the walls, like you mentioned. i treat the whole gallery as a canvas, including the floor, which was almost entirely covered in patterned painting, and then completely destroyed by the end of the opening night! i’m compelled to create works specifically designed to interact with the peculiarities of the gallery space…it’s just so much more interesting that way.
i’d love to know about the faces you had hanging at the front of the gallery – i heard that you were replacing them with new ones every time one sold. how did that kind of artistic “movement” play into the show or the pieces themselves?
the small masks were from a series of 50 ‘variable edition’ silkscreen prints, created in cooperation with station 16. each print, though numbered, was entirely unique, and most often included hand embellishment. as for the movement…actually, replacing them as they were sold wasn’t a plan before the show. it just sort of happened that way. it was admittedly pretty funny to see the guys working their way through the crowd with that damn ladder!
we priced them to be highly affordable, placing them in reach of a pretty broad audience. i think it’s cool to make art that your friends can afford! hell, even i can afford my own work at this price! almost.
photo by andre bathalon
the turn out for the vernissage was through the roof. you must have been a little overwhelmed! what else was going through your mind that night?
the turn out and response to the show was overwhelming…totally bananas! i was thrilled. it was so good to connect with old friends and meet with many new peeps on a night like that, especially after that month of insane production. kind of like a great big warm light at the end of a long tunnel.
were you happy with how everything turned out?
well, to be honest, seeing the art that night was tough…there were too many cats there to get a good look! fortunately, the show stays up for another couple of months in the space. it’s worth going to the gallery to check it out under quieter conditions!
so, will you be taking any time off or are you heading straight into more projects? what else can we expect from you in 2013?
per the LNDMRK mandate, we’re putting some focus on exporting my ass to far off places, kind of like miami. however, the target this time is in afghanistan, to mentor with an australian artist who is currently doing work there. i’m very excited for this next trip. i’m a political animal, and talk shit about that silly war on a daily basis, so i look forward to actually seeing this thing for myself, putting up some art, and a call to greater personal action when it comes to using my work as a tool for some serious social engagement, even under some of life’s harsher conditions!