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Artist of the (Two) Week(s): Mathew Borrett, Part II

Posted by art On August - 15 - 2008

Untitled - pencil.

By Rachel Kahn

A few weeks ago, Mathew Borrett answered some of my questions regarding his work – so many questions, in fact, that you’ll have to click here to read the first half of the interview.

MONDO: So you said your day job includes 3-D imaging; have you made art with 3-D imaging as well?

MB: Yeah, actually, it’s a whole other side of the coin. At times it’s totally taken over from the drawing. I worked in graphic design and illustration and only kind of dabbled in 3-D, but recently I started working for a special effects company doing matte painting, which involves some 3-D. Using the computer to make art is something I’ve done since I had my Commodore 64, where you couldn’t just make graphics, you had to program them. I have looked for ways to integrate the two more, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get quite there.

MONDO: Do you find it affects how you think when you sit down and draw?

MB: Yes. In fact, my girlfriend and I bought a house and totally gutted it, and I’ve been really absorbed in renovating it and only recently took a break. So I hadn’t done any drawing in a long time, but I had done a lot of computer stuff at work, so when it came time to actually sit down and do drawings, I had to shake off the urge to begin the process on the computer and just let the drawing do its thing. So maybe it’s not a good idea to integrate the two, but one certainly informs the other.

Untitled - pencil.

MB: Uh, not really. I don’t put on a particular hat or a particular pair of shoes. I do have to kind of get myself feeling at home and surround myself with familiar objects and things. Often I’ll look through my old sketchbooks because there are hundreds of ideas there. I do need a certain amount of isolation and quiet, and music is a big factor, too. I’ll listen to a very specific kind of really ambient techno music or something to get me into the right headspace.

MONDO: Is having a studio space away from home important to your process?

MB: I’ve tried a lot of different arrangements. I think it works better for me, partially because my house right now is a small house, and, renovations aside, I don’t really have my own room. I kind of need my own little den.

MONDO: Why did you take a break from having a studio?

MB: I guess, I don’t know, certain twists and turns in my life. I had a studio here for a few years, and I lived down the road and had a solo show at AWOL. But then I had been working the same job for a long time and got really sick of it, and on a whim I bought an old van and went on a road trip. A lot of people were disappointed because I’d had that solo show, and people were kind of watching me. I’d even had a little spread in Mix magazine, but I took off and left. I do find it a little uncomfortable feeling any expectations, but I think I needed inspiration, so I went off and got some. I guess I’m on my own timetable with drawing. And with the house, that totally took over our lives for a couple years. It was virtually impossible to do any drawing.

A Nightmare Remembered 17 Years Later - ink on paper.

MB: I guess so, yeah. I think, for the room drawings in particular, part of the inspiration for those was my memories of the old farm house I grew up in being slowly renovated over the years that we lived there. I remember being – and this kind of ties into the whole Poetics of Space and the psychology of space – I remember being fascinated when my dad would rip a hole in a wall, and you could see from one room into another where before they had been completely discrete spaces, both physically and psychologically. I would always have dreams after that about finding different versions of my house that were at some level of deconstruction or in a different location, like my house in a desert or half-destroyed by a tornado. I had lots of dreams about finding rooms that didn’t really exist, and in those rooms, usually what I would find is some Lego set that I wanted – I was obsessed with Lego as a kid – or some manifestation of fear would live there. They were often really dilapidated, scary and uncomfortable; like, I’d find this horrible shaft beside my room that went down to the basement, where there would be a black pool of water that was really deep.

MONDO: Were you a big sci-fi and fantasy reader?

Uptown Trail - pencil on illustration board.

MB: Oh yeah, totally. Sometimes I have an urge to indulge myself by putting a bit more of a sci-fi/fantasy slant on my work, and sometimes I do. Sometimes with the art that I do on the computer – which is sort of in its own world, I don’t really show it, it just tends to be my tinkering away – tends to be more sci-fi. One specific thing that fascinates me, and one thing I’m starting to explore more of in my work, is time travel. The whole idea of time, the whole notion of Time, is fascinating. I used to have this weird fantasy where I would show people from the past around; like I would take someone from Toronto circa 1899 and show them Toronto now.

In reverse, I recently became totally obsessed with looking at the Toronto Archives online; they have 30,000 photographs of the city as it used to be, and I’ve studied all these pictures, so I basically have an overlay of Victorian Toronto in my mind everywhere I go. It’s informing a lot of the work that I’m planning or thinking of doing. I have this idea where I want to show some future version of the city with a 500-year-old CN Tower that’s been repurposed or something like that. And in the work that I just did for the Outdoor, it’s starting to creep in there as well. I’m trying to show buildings that might be reminiscent of modern buildings but aren’t, or they’ve been changed or remodeled or something like that. So walking around the city, I love to just observe and see how things have changed over time. And how history, the great depression, and all these things have had this huge effect on the city.

MONDO: In ten years people will be perfectly okay with the fact that Maple Leaf Gardens houses a grocery store.

MB: Sad but true.

MONDO: As you become more interested in drawing future Toronto, are you using photo reference or just relying on your visual memory?

Untitled - pencil.

MB: That’s part of the problem, why I have yet to take any of these ideas and do any finished work with them. I don’t like drawing from observation – it bores me. I understand the skill – it definitely improves your drawing – but I would never consider drawing the CN Tower as it is now because it’s boring. It would have to be a science fiction CN Tower or a ruined CN Tower. However, I am very interested in plausibility, believe it or not, and when it comes to this idea, I really want to know how concrete decays over a long period of time. What actually happens to old buildings? If I use any reference, it’s just photoed ruins in general; when I went on a backpacking trip to Europe, I took pictures of ruined abbeys and decaying buildings and that kind of thing. I think the other side of this idea is that I actually have 3-D computer models of the CN Tower and the Skydome that are accurate, and one thing I want to try is taking computer generated images and projecting them and drawing with that as a starting point. But there’s a danger in that, too, because then it might be too realistic or might lose something.

MONDO: So, do you have any advice for people who are looking to start kicking themselves into making their own art?

MB: Start out by just forgetting everything that you think you should do that may be stemming more from trying to please a client or your teachers. Try to quiet the voice of the critic in your head a little bit, and just try to start with what comes naturally. Like I said, I had stopped drawing, and I even wondered if “well maybe I’m just not going to do any art anymore.” So I just went back to basics and started scribbling in the sketchbook – literally doing scribbly five-second drawings. Try to find what comes naturally and use that as your starting place.

MONDO: Do you participate in the art network that exists in Toronto? Is it a support system for you, or do you exist outside of it?

MB: For the most part I feel I exist outside of it, but I have a fair number of connections, and that’s part of the reason why having a studio here is good. You feel more connected; I can take a short walk to go see some galleries, and being in the shared studio environment like this is also really great. The AWOL folks are great. The sense of community is definitely an important thing that I do want to immerse myself in more at times.

Elemental Revenge Laboratory - ink on paper.

MB: I think I was much less social when I was at school. I wasn’t even a small-town kid, I was a country kid, and when I first moved to the city, I was pretty overwhelmed; I think I was intimidated by the “scene.” And now I see that certain aspects of it kind of turn me off. But doing things like the Toronto Outdoor show is fantastic because you get such a cross-section of people who wouldn’t normally go gallery hopping, and I get a lot of nourishment from that kind of experience, as exhausting as it is. Also, in terms of community, I’m more involved or associate more with people who are activist types; you know Spacing Magazine? All the people who are involved in Spacing are friends of mine, and people who are involved in the community of the city, that’s sort of more interesting to me than the art scene, whatever the art scene is.

MONDO: Do you have any shows coming up?

MB: There’s the award winners from the Toronto Outdoor show’s group show at the First Canadian Place in January. All the winners get to have one piece in the show, and it’s up for six weeks. Oh, and I intend to do a piece or two for the Square Foot show. Other than that, though, no, and I’m at that dangerous point now where I have to keep drawing. There was a lot of interest generated from the Toronto Outdoor show, though – I sold as many pieces after the show as I did during the show and sold out of most of the little drawings that I did.

You can further explore Mathew Borrett’s art here.

Artist of the Week: Mathew Borrett

Posted by art On August - 12 - 2008
<em>Hiding Places</em> - Ink on paper

Hiding Places - ink on paper

By Rachel Kahn

I met Mathew Borrett at the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibition last month, sitting in a booth surrounded by drawings one could almost literally lose oneself in. Fittingly, Mathew Borrett was awarded Best of Category for Drawing, and had run out of business cards before I got to his booth. He found time to sit with me in his studio and discuss his detailed art in detail. What follows is Part I of the two-part interview.

MONDO: For the sake of the readers who haven’t seen your work before, how would you describe what you do?

Mathew Borrett: Drawing, in pencil and ink, and almost exclusively from my imagination. Typically really obsessively detailed, architectural-type subject matter, based on lots of things: dreams, childhood, or often just whatever I find fascinating and interesting.

MONDO: So, when did you get into art and drawing?

MB: As soon as I could make marks with crayons; since I can remember. Though I never really seriously thought of becoming an artist; I was quite intent on becoming an architect for a long time, which may explain a few things — I guess maybe I’m a frustrated architect. But then I had a roommate in college who was in the architecture program, and he always referred to it as “archi-torture.” So I think maybe I’m happier to be an architect in my imagination. I get to do more exciting projects, I think.

MONDO: You’ve done some illustration work as well as your personal work, right?

MB: Actually that was what I was trained for — I went to OCAD for Illustration.

MONDO: Were you focusing on technical illustration?

MB: No, in some ways I didn’t get back to drawing until after I left school. I think when I went to college for illustration the focus was a lot more on assignments and trying to communicate certain ideas so it became less about what you personally wanted to express. And I experimented a lot with different techniques and didn’t do anything remotely like I do now. I realized afterwards that I didn’t draw anymore for my own enjoyment like I used to — you know the kind of drawing that I would want to be doing in math class in high school, doodling in my notebook or wherever. So I decided to throw out everything that I had been doing up to that point, because I had kind of stagnated, and decided to just start scribbling, and just drawing and doodling, and in some ways I consider the work I do now to be really involved doodles.

<em>The Hexemeticulator</em> - Ink on paper

The Hexemeticulator - ink on paper

MONDO: They definitely make me think of drawings from back in math class, things that just spread out on the page.

MB: Yeah. Ideally I like to draw kind of organically. Sometimes I’ll have a plan, but if I plan too much it feels like I’m just a slave to some idea.

MONDO: Do you work with a grid or a ruler at all?

MB: Um, not really — sometimes, for the larger pieces, I’ll do a very widely spaced grid, but it typically will just fade out while I’m drawing. Even though they look precise, they’re really very kind of loose and wonky all the time, without any precise perspective. This piece, The Hexemeticulator — this is the largest drawing I’ve ever done — it was the most planned. But in such an overarching way that there was a lot of room for play within the idea. And with it, I actually did a little bit of 3-D modelling on a computer to kind of get the shape and perspective because I thought it’d be useful, but I don’t know if it was even necessary. Other drawings I pick a place to start and I just kind of go.

MONDO: There is a very consistent angle to a lot of your work — that’s an exceptional part of it.

MB: Yeah, a very isometric, draftsman-like, removed kind of perspective.

MONDO: So had you studied architecture for a while before going into illustration?

MB: No, not really. I took a couple classes in high school. I do a lot of 3-D graphics, they’ve kind of been part of my day job for a while, so I do think three-dimensionally, and quite literally in my drawings a lot of them are cross-sections of an imagined place.

MONDO: When you’re looking at art or at other things, where do you get your inspiration? What turns your brain on?

MB: Nature. Anything. Lots of things. I love to just go for walks around the city and really look at places. I think we tend to just pass through our surroundings a lot without really paying any attention to them. So I guess my environment, whatever it may be, has a strong influence. Like, I went on a long road trip, a few years ago, down to the southwest U.S., so I just started drawing all these kind of desolate road landscapes and rocks, stuff like that. It seemed like a natural process of whatever I see I process and it finds its way into my drawings.

<em>At Night He Hid</em> - ink on paper

At Night He Hid - ink on paper

MONDO: How do you come to your titles?

MB: Either I don’t know what a drawing is about, or I have no idea what I could possibly call it. I often won’t even title a piece, or I like to be playful or quasi-poetic with the names, or hint at some kind of story, like it might be an illustration in a book.

MONDO: So they’re largely after the fact?

MB: Very much so. And often just out of feeling like, “Oh, I guess I should name this,” because people will want to know what the names are. Although it does add another dimension to it.

MONDO: Some change very drastically upon reading the title. There’s a sense of anonymity to a lot of it, especially your room drawings, that really lends itself to that kind of titling and that kind of reading.

MB: I can kind of be mysterious and put any title I want, really.

MONDO: When I look at your art, I start seeing references to a lot of different kinds of theory, like thought theory — do you put that there? Or do you trip over that sometimes?

MB: I do. I don’t really consciously try to express philosophical thoughts with the work — it just kind of naturally pops into my head with it. I haven’t really read a lot of philosophy, though I did read a book called The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard — that was a really cool book. I think I’ve always had a strong sense of how a place feels, especially as a kid. And I don’t so much now, but I used to have a dream life that at times felt more extensive, somehow, than my waking life. I would see things far more vividly in dreams than through my eyes when I was awake. I often try to capture those sorts of feelings, where I feel like a place in a dream is a living thing somehow or that a forest or a city’s got some kind of consciousness to it.

MONDO: Okay, let’s go into materials for a minute — do you have a favourite pencil, a favourite kind of paper?

MB: Lately I’ve been drawing with these technical pencils (just HB technical pencils, partly because I don’t have to sharpen them) so any paper that accepts pencil nicely seems to work. I’ve been working on illustration board recently, because I like something a little rigid, and the ink drawings, the older ones, I was doing on printmaking paper. I’ve gotten to the point where I like a setup where I can just walk into the studio, sit down, and start working right away without doing a lot of preparation. Leading up to the Toronto Outdoor show I started working on this piece here in pen and ink, it was a little bit slow and laborious and it wasn’t working for me, so I kind of abandoned this when it was 90 percent finished. I will get back to it, but I switched to pencil, because pencil just feels so natural. I don’t feel any pressure around working with it, it’s very forgiving, I can erase things if I need to, whereas with something like pen, there’s really a level of anxiety that goes along with it, because you kind of have to roll with it if you mess up.

Detail of <em>The Hexemeticulator</em>

Detail of The Hexemeticulator

MONDO: Do you do a lot of under-drawing?

MB: Yeah, I kind of do it in bits and pieces, in keeping with letting things grow like doodles. I’ll kind of sketch ahead with a lighter pencil, and just plan out a little bit ahead of time, and then sort of fill it in with detail. With The Hexemeticulator I had a very broad idea and I knew what the shapes were — it’s quite different than the other ones, it’s more designed.

MONDO: The Hexemeticulator is really surreal to look at in person. When you see it online you see the details and you think, “Oh it must be huge!” — and it is big — but it seems completely impossible that you made all those tiny little marks.

MB: Yeah, I think in the execution of the pieces, I have to keep it interesting trying to make different kinds of marks or really playing with different kinds of lines, and that got to an extreme in this piece because I think I did hours and hours and hours of pointillism in the sandy area. I kind of played with it, but it was pretty crazy. So to really have some fun and challenge myself I had these two little lines coming down here and basically except for the little floating bits there is one continuous line that I basically worked around each side until they connect down underneath. Kind of crazy, but fun!

MONDO: I was going to ask if you had fun.

MB: I do! Well, I do and I don’t. Some pieces are a struggle! Working on one for the Toronto Outdoor, I really struggled with it. I kept thinking “Oh, this is terrible, what am I doing this for, this is so laborious,” and I wasn’t having fun. So a lot of it is trying to keep it fun within the framework of something that’s going to take hours and hours and hours to finish.

MONDO: You have an incredible precision; have you always taken this approach or is it something you kind of grew into?

MB: I think it comes naturally to me. It doesn’t feel like hard work to be precise and detailed at all. I find it hard to be loose and leave something alone, and I admire artists who can dash off paintings that have a lot of energy to them and look good.

MONDO: You’re designing spaces, and they’re spaces that, especially in terms of the perspective, feel very real, very believable, and very tactile. Is that something that you look for when you look at art?

<em>Exploring a Hypnogogic City</em> - ink on paper

Exploring a Hypnogogic City - ink on paper

MB: Yeah, absolutely. If I see a painting at a gallery one of the first things I do is go right up close and look at the fine-grain details, and if I don’t see any detail on a certain level of magnification I lose interest, somehow. An overall image can keep my attention for a certain amount of time, but I like to be able to fall into something, which is why I get a lot of inspiration from Nature. You know it’s just got layer upon layer of detail; it just keeps going and going and it only stops when you can’t see any farther, and you can get a magnifying glass and look even closer, and there’s just worlds within worlds within worlds.

MONDO: When I saw your work at the Toronto Outdoor the first thing that came to mind were some Borges short stories I’d read where he writes about the idea of the infinite. I think that’s something I see in your work. Do you think about the infinite a lot?

MB: Not really, no. It’s just something that I feel is a reality. I’m glad that I grew up in the country actually, in a place where you can actually see the stars. It’s something I really miss — and I forget about — living in the city. These ideas of the infinite, I don’t really feel they’re my own thoughts; I do get this feeling when I’m working on a piece or coming up with ideas that I’m kind of channelling something. I can’t explain it any further.

MONDO: That kind of describes the spontaneous process.

MB: Yeah, it’s something contained within that. The Hexemeticulator, for example, I had three weeks or four weeks before a group show and had to do a piece for it and I was kind of stuck, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to do some kind of interior or cave-like thing, and I was in my old studio here down the hall, and I was having a nap, just dozing on a couch, and literally, that whole idea just kind of popped into my head all at once — in outline. I guess at the time I was looking for ways to integrate a lot of different ideas. I don’t have any examples here, but for the work that I used to do, I used to paint on plywood. I did these very iconic shapes — basically that whole cored-out shape in The Hexemeticulator; that shape exactly, now that I think of it — and I would do these very geometric kind of pieces, but I had totally dropped that, and so this piece was kind of a way to integrate my drawing, which I’d started, and those more overarching geometric kind of ideas, as well as the designing using different tools.

To be continued… please check back for Part II next week.

Artist of the Week: Doublenaut

Posted by art On July - 11 - 2008

By Tina Chu
Photos by Tina Chu

The portfolio of Toronto-based design studio, Doublenaut, could probably never be adequately described, but if I had to take my pick, the words balance and control come to mind. Attuned to their clients’ visions and audience, each project is a balance of those elements and the collective’s keen design sensibilities. Nothing is out of place. Every letter, image, every bit of negative and positive space relates to one another and has been crafted and positioned to attract and maintain attention. Each work communicates not only information, but becomes a manifestation of the client’s identity, and in the case of their reputed gig posters, an animation of what a band’s music may represent to its fans. Yet the best part about the works of twin brothers Andrew and Matt McCracken is the unpredictability.

Responsible for anything from apparel to packaging designs and everything in-between, Doublenaut expertly distills the essence of any genre. Whether they’re designing for the band Cancer Bats-depicting stark and gritty imagery- or the political book cover for a recent Penguin Group title, the designs produced by Doublenaut exhibit only expertise and versatility.

Even with their impressive reputation to uphold, Andrew was kind enough to answer some my questions.

MONDO: Does the name Doublenaut have any special origins or meaning?

Andrew McCracken: I used to use the name Double Knot as a company name when I was in school for submitting my projects. When Matt and I started working together on stuff we changed it to Doublenaut for no particular reason.

MONDO: Do you come from an arts or design background? What drew you to become professional graphic designers and to start Doublenaut?

AM: We both took art classes in high school, but that’s about it. When it came time to decide what we wanted to do as far as post-secondary education goes, I think it just was something that appealed to us both. I almost went to Ryerson for photography but changed my mind last second when I saw a Communication Arts design annual.

MONDO: What’s the importance or the difference between a collective design identity versus an individual one? Do you all work together on every project?

AM: Matt and I usually work together on most projects at least in some aspect, even if it’s just brainstorming rough ideas. Sometimes one of us will start something and the other will finish it if we get stuck or sick of working on it. The only difference between doing stuff together and separately is sometimes having that second opinion. It’s nice bouncing ideas off of someone.

MONDO: If you’ve noticed any differences in your individual styles or design aesthetics since launching Doublenaut, how have each of you been influenced in the group setting and by each other?

AM: Our styles have changed a lot since we started. Matt probably influences me more than anything else. How we do stuff kind of gets in each others’ heads since it’s just the two of us working together everyday. Of course there are a lot of outside sources that we draw inspiration from everyday. Books, posters, album artwork-stuff we’re surrounded by everyday that affects our work a ton.

MONDO: Do you have any designer heroes whose work you admire or by whom you are also influenced?

AM: That’s hard to pin down; it’s like asking someone to name their favourite band. I think I admire a lot of designers based on how they handle their business and themselves on top of the work they put out. People I’ve followed personally for years are: Mike Giant, Shepard Fairey, Invisible Creature, Stefan Sagmeister, The Little Friends of Printmaking and on and on and on.

MONDO: I noticed some of your gig posters have been inspired by the music of the performers being advertised. Do you always approach posters in this way? If so, how does your method vary when working with other media?

AM: Whenever we’re designing something, we design it specifically based on the needs of that client/subject. So if it’s music, usually their lyrics/music is what influences the vibe of the poster. If it’s a book cover, it will be the content of the book and the intended audience that largely affects how it looks.

MONDO: Do you have any design pet peeves in? What do you think is the worst design faux-pas?

AM: Not overly, but I guess one would be when people put strokes on fonts improperly and you can tell. There was a Yaris (car) ad campaign recently where all the type had these big spiky bits coming out of the outline because they didn’t bother to delete an extra node from the outline of the font. Can’t believe someone didn’t catch that. It looked terrible.

MONDO: If money wasn’t an issue what would you be designing all day?

AM: Probably the same stuff. We’re at a point where we’re lucky to have very few projects that we don’t like working on. More posters, book covers, album art, et cetera.

MONDO: With an extensive background designing for and participating in the music industry, in your opinion, who has more fun: rock stars or designers? Why?

AM: I think if you have more fun doing whatever you love. If you love being a musician you’re going to have more fun being in a band. If you love designing you’re not going to have as much fun being in a band. I was in a touring band for years and I liked it, but I didn’t love it. I tried to do both but it ended up making both of them not fun. So I picked design and have never regretted it.

MONDO: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring designers or for posterity?

AM: Don’t be afraid to work off of the computer. It’s more fun (IMHO) and will open you up to different ways of designing. Also, being a designer is not a good way to make great money, so if you don’t love it, don’t waste your time. Thanks!

Artist of the Week: Acorn

Posted by art On May - 20 - 2008

By Eniko

As an art student about to enter my sixth year of university, I’m getting antsy. I keep a constant watch for new artists and their works, so I’ve put my observations to good use: here’s the result. I’m helping to spread the word. Recently I had the pleasure of chatting it up with Acorn, a very modest West Coast artist, whom I’ve been following for a couple of years now. His style has unfolded into intricate magical imagery; he’ll use it to lure you into his world.

MONDO: Age? Current location?

Acorn: 21, Vancouver.

MONDO: How did you start drawing?

A: I guess I doodled as a kid or whatever. I remember trying to re-draw characters from the Zelda: Ocarina of Time instruction manual, but I didn’t really start doing my own work until I had my own computer and fell into pixel art. Played some budget online games where we made our own graphics and things like that. Spent a lot of time in MS Paint zooming in and out. Eh, then finally got a blackbook in late high school and started drawing more traditionally and tagging as well. Pretty much it.

MONDO: How’d you get into graffiti?

A: Just started tagging because I was walking and taking the bus often late at night. Just kind of fell into it.

MONDO: Any post-secondary education?

A: Well, went to ECIAD in Vancouver but didn’t last much longer than a couple of months. I’m weak.

MONDO: You have been travelling since you got out of school. Being from Vancouver, do you miss the ocean?

A: Oh definitely, and the mountains, and I think it annoys my mates saying it so much.

MONDO: You described Barcelona and Bucharest as good times. Care to share?

A: Well, I guess that was the last leg of the trip after Berlin, and the whole time I was in both places I really enjoyed myself. Stayed with really sound people, got to paint a lot, started eating better, etc.

MONDO: Your Berlin experience was ghetto?

A: Well, my mates and I were staying in what are considered the two ghettos of Berlin. Apparently on one of our streets a child was burned inside a suitcase left on the street, related to crystal meth or something. It was quite nice never going out, and no responsibility, but I think we had mild scurvy from only eating noodles and drinking beer.

MONDO: What are some observations (art-related or not) you made while travelling in Europe?

A: Seemed like people co-operated more and public displays of drunkenness were fine, which I enjoyed.

MONDO: Finally, what inspires you to create the work you do?

A: Eating and relaxing.

MONDO: Current favourite artists/musicians?

A: Boards of Canada, Ulrich Schnauss, M83.

MONDO: So you’re working on a book?

A: Eh, well a couple. One is with my writer mate, for a short story, and the other is just a compilation of the forest I’ve been making.

MONDO: You just finished a visit at Islands Fold. How was that?

A: Frisbee golf, amazing food, hand cramps, good people.

MONDO: Other current projects?

A: A few zines and shirt type things.

MONDO: What are your future plans?

A: Heading to Melbourne in June for a few months to do a residency at Wardlow. Win the lottery and build house in the mountains.

MONDO: Any plans on showing in Toronto?

A: When Toronto gets mountains.

For the record, Acorn just hasn’t had the opportunity come his way yet. For more images and Acorn updates, visit here.

Artist of the Week: Louis Calabro

Posted by art On February - 19 - 2008

Louis Calabro PerformsBy Kerry Freek

This week, AofW talks with Louis Calabro:a Toronto-based writer, performer and DJ (you may know him from his vinyl selections at The Boat’s once-a-month, super-popular 1950s dance party, Goin’ Steady). Check it.

MONDO: Hey Louis – your MySpace page identifies you as a comedian and dancer (among “many other things”). Please expound.

LOUIS CALABRO: Hey Kerry. The page refers to me as a comedian because some of my material deals with sensitive issues such as racism, violence towards women, homelessness and other such things. I think one way to approach these concerns is through comedy. When I am on stage performing, I am playing a character and may sometimes say [controversial] things. These lines are usually taken from real-life examples and conversations I have had with full-blown bigots.

I am fascinated with these personalities because they are so serious about their beliefs even though they don’t seem to believe in much else (e.g. politics, art, the environment, health, soberness). In becoming these people on stage, I want to do a few things. One is to make the audience completely uncomfortable and afraid. The second is to show that being a racist is not much different than being absurd. By using this type of dark-comedic approach, I hope to expose how having these beliefs can be both ridiculous and devastating.

I am a dancer for two reasons: one is that I like to dance. Secondly, I used to stand in public places and perform “insanity dances.” These dances consisted of making myself drunk with dizziness by turning in circles and then performing immediately afterwards. I did one of these at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City and people seemed to like it. The last time I did this in Toronto, a squeegee man threatened to punch me because I was “taking the attention away” from his panning. He blamed me for his homelessness and ripped my papers out of my hand. I figured I didn’t want a dead squeegee kid on my hands, so I went to another corner. Shit was like the West Baltimore drug game.

The “many other things” refer to my work as a photographer and a video editor – you can see my youtube videos under username DARKGREEN.

MONDO: I have heard, sir, that you are an employee of The Bank. Does such a profession inspire you, or render you lifeless?

LC: Shhh! No one should know this! No, just kidding. One of my favourite poets is Raymond Souster. He was a bank manager as well as a great Canadian artist. My part-time job allows me to meet people from all walks of life. From high-flying club owners to teachers to construction workers to the oldest of the old, everyone comes into the bank. I have had some terribly unnerving conversations with these people. A 30-year-old woman once told me she was upset to be on her period because she was about to fly to Brazil to fuck her 16-year-old boyfriend – who was “great to her.” I have also witnessed a 14-year-old girl talk about giving birth recently and how they had to “pull the thing out of me with a machine.” Great stuff.

Oh, and I also had a gun put at my head during an insanely well-planned out robbery. That day I said to myself, “This is the end of my life.” What other job gives you this type of experience? I have recently quit the bank after six long years.

Louis Calabro PhotographsMONDO: You’ve been known to get progressively drunker while onstage. In fact, I once caught one of your readings and you were drinking out what looked to me like a novelty-sized brandy snifter, no doubt filled to scale with some sort of 40-proof intoxicant. Is this some sort of obscene coping mechanism, or part of your performance? Explain!

LC: I drink while performing for a few reasons. One is to take the nerve away from performing. Deep down, I am very nervous person. Second, I think people like seeing me get progressively drunker on stage. Thirdly, I believe a huge part of performing is risk-taking. Not enough people give themselves up completely to their performances. Many readers, writers and performance artists reek of superficiality. I have sat through so many performances in which the people on stage seem as if they are forcing themselves to act, and come off as overly prepared, leaving no room for chance. This type of thing is fine, but my performances are better because not only is the audience unaware of what’s going to happen, so am I. Becoming drunk on stage makes me forget what I am trying to do and makes it a challenge to stay focused on the character. I haven’t ever disappointed an audience and I think it’s because of the risks I take on stage and in public. Oh, and the alcohol is always real.

MONDO: Regale two tales: one about your best performance experience, one about your worst. If you prefer happy endings, you may choose to reverse the order. While you’re at it: what do you enjoy most about performance/performing?

LC: In my opinion, my worst performance was during the first Nuit Blanche a couple years ago. I was sticking too closely to my material and not “freestyling” enough. I also chose to perform a piece about Alzheimer’s disease and I don’t think I quite finished editing it on time. I felt like it was only effective on a very surface level. Plus the audience was really bad, it was only 9 PM and I think they would have rather been watching a giant balloon or a green painting or something like that.

My best performance happened in Buffalo, NY. It was during some ultra-mediocre performance/cabaret event that consisted of various 20-minute sets by local Buffalonians. Everything from female vocalists to gypsy-folk bands to video artists performed. It was called the “infringement festival” I think. Anyway, I was invited along with several other Toronto writers. The writers that made the trip got zero attention from the audience, as well as from the other performers. On top of this, the bands played for much longer than 20-minutes – pushing all the Toronto writers to perform later on in the evening. One of us didn’t perform as a protest.

When it was finally time for me to go on stage, artist Matt Cully and I went up together. At the same time, there were about fifteen other people on stage setting up for the next band. They walked in front and around us, bumping us as we performed! Matt began by saying “boooo poetry… boooo art” – I pretended to be a stagehand and began moving things around in circles and looking confused, and handing microphone stands to people and putting chairs in front of the stage stairs, dancing in a circle, etc. When he was finished his piece, I took the mic and began yelling my performance. The stagehands continued to interrupt me on stage. At one point I turned around and tried to stand in a small space between a music stand and a man who was tuning his guitar, I guess because I had been drinking, I slipped and knocked over the stand and fell on the guy tuning.

At this point three people attacked me. We came close to fisticuffs but my fellow Toronto writers ran on stage and shielded me, arguing that I should be given some respect while I performed. The organizer pulled the mic from me and told me I was “done”, but then said I had five more minutes and that I was to perform without a mic. By this time, everyone in the whole place was watching the stage and the musicians had stopped tuning their guitars and moving around loudly. I screamed my last pieces without a microphone and went on for about ten minutes more. I remember ending by reading “Take A Chance” by Glenda Collins. I was spitting out the lyrics while chugging whiskey. Later someone said it was “punk rock”. I left the stage greeted by some girl who jumped on me with a flying hug and some huge guy gave me the best high-five ever, grabbing my hand, plus the whole place was roaring. All the Toronto writers left immediately after I got of stage. Afterwards, outside the bar, all these Buffalonians came up to me saying how much they liked the performance. Someone even came up to me in a chicken-and-biscuits place.

Louis Calabro Performs With UmbrellaMONDO: Since 2006, you’ve been responsible for an every-now-and-again performance night called THE END OF THE INTERNET (February 20 at 8pm, The Press Club, 850 Dundas Street West, PWYC). Tell me a little about the series – what are its life goals? You once had super-famous Toronto poet Christian Bök in the line-up, yes? Tough act to follow?

LC: THE END OF THE INTERNET began in May 2006 and since then I have held something like ten events. I started it because I was pissed off at the other reading or performance series in the city, thinking that they were the most mundane things imaginable. To me, performance and writing is exciting and it only made sense to have an event that reflected this.

For the first TEOTI I promoted the name only, not explaining what it was or who was involved. This ended up working well as everyone from hardcore luddites to indie rockers showed up. It also generated buzz because the name was intriguing to people. After that I realized I only wanted to book performers that I liked. Since then I have had Brian Joseph Davis, Christian Bök, Corrodo Paina, Paul Dutton, Rob Read, Amy Lam, Matt Cully, Aidan Baker, Wes Allen, Jon McC urley, not to mention (and to mention) an auctioneer named RJ Johnston and hypnotist Dave Curran. I also once had a real, live parrot at TEOTI.

Yes, Christian Bök cannot be followed – he is a brilliant architect of exciting writing. In fact, this may be the reason I haven’t held another TEOTI since his performance. I peaked prematurely, you heard?

MONDO: What do you think would happen to you (and the world) if the internet really did end? I mean, TEOTI and other events like Goin’ Steady rely heavily on online promotion.. but let’s go a little deeper here. Are we headed for societal collapse?

Louis Calabro PerformsLC: We aren’t heading for societal collapse. To me, the internet should be taken as a great phenomenon. That sounds obvious, but whatever. It is an extremely effective tool. The problem is, along with that, it is also the worst thing to ever exist. The amount of mis-information, destructive imagery and “bullying” that goes on is too high. It is a lawless “society” that contributes to the ruination of many lives. Check the stats on internet-related deaths and you will either laugh or be concerned. Recently a woman began a blog saying she was going to kill herself in 90 days – it was amazing to see the lack of interest everyone showed towards this. We’ve all been duped in the past by silly art projects and twisted marketing campaigns – not even suicide gets our attention anymore.

On the other hand, the “internet as tool” hand, I enjoy using specific sites for information, sites that I trust. I download a lot of music and read newspapers and magazines online. I am obsessed with internet programming code or internet “language” and consider it very poetic. I also enjoy creating fake people on Facebook. The thing is, if the internet did end – I wouldn’t know who my friends were anymore.

MONDO: Your first text, Stop Here On Red Signal 96, was published by Lyrical Myrical Press a couple of years ago. Do you have plans for more print publications? What about non-print future endeavors?

LC: I have been busy with DJ’ng and other things and haven’t concentrated on writing as much as I would like to. I have however, written many performances and was thinking of putting all of them together in a book. I have written a few short stories about love, sex and obsessing over watching beheadings online, all of which are in the very initial stages. I hope to have a short collection called How to Win at Online Poker available at TEOTI this month. I will continue my Hijacking Reading Series this year – this consists of me reading at other events, between features, without being invited. I think it makes those events better. I am also writing a new performance about talking loud on cell phones while riding the bus.

Louis’ website,, is under construction, but we’re told it’ll be back soon with daily updates, including photography, writing and commentary. Montréalers can look out for Louis performing in on March 29th. He also continues to DJ at Circa, The Drake Hotel, and “other places where young girls wear no clothes and geek chic is en vogue.”

Artist of the Week: Amanda McCavour

Posted by art On February - 5 - 2008

Click for larger imageBy Kerry Freek

MONDO: Hi, Amanda; it’s nice to meet you. I first saw your beautiful thread works at the FARrAGO group show during Nuit Blanche, and have since admired other work on your lovely website. I thought I’d ask you a couple of questions about your work. You ready? We’re going to start with an essay question. No more than 3,500 words, please.

Pigeons are disease-ridden shithawks. Please support or refute this statement.

AMANDA MCCAVOUR: Ah, I should probably tell you to keep your distance. I once startled a pigeon and its wing grazed my face. We’re still doing tests, but I’d be careful. So…I’m supporting your statement?

MONDO: I’m (mostly) kidding about the pigeons. But there is a human reluctance to share space with them, like you say in your statement about Pigeon City, one of your recent installations. Why do you think we urbanites feel such repulsion toward these hotdog-friendly birds? What are you trying to convey by filling a room with 100 thread renderings of them?

AM: Maybe we feel such a repulsion toward them because we perceive them as dirty and they are always in the way. I think that’s where my frustration with pigeons came from. My Pigeon City installation was inspired by my daily bicycle commute into the city. I would ride into Toronto from Etobicoke every morning and pigeons were always in my way. Although we share urban space with these birds that we often see them as obstacles (or, as you say, as disease-ridden shithawks), I did this installation to acknowledge their place in the city and give them a space of their own.

The PigeonMONDO: I like your ideas about sewing – that “looping and knotting fragile fibres together gives them strength” and entwined fibres “mimic those found in our bodies and elsewhere in the natural world.” You use thread and sewing in a lot of your projects; I particularly liked the Body series I saw during Nuit Blanche. What’s your method?

AM: Most of my work is created with a sewing machine. I sew pictures into a fabric that dissolves in water. This fabric allows me to use the sewing machine as a drawing tool and the thread becomes a drawn line. The fabric that I use allows me to create finished drawings that are made entirely out of thread. I use various weights of line, shade and colour to create my pieces which are usually hung from the wall with straight pins.

MONDO: So do you mainly work in textiles? If so, why? What about other media?

AM: While I was studying at York I found that I was drawing and doing prints of textiles: scarves, ropes, old pieces of cloth. I felt that the next move was to start making pieces out of textiles. There was a project for one of my drawing classes in which we made a text-based piece. I really wanted to make the piece out of thread but I couldn’t figure out a way to do it. This kind of started my search for a way to incorporate textiles in my work.

I find thread as a medium to be really exciting because with it comes ideas of fragility and temporality. Thread is vulnerable and delicate. I’ve always been interested in things that are on the verge of falling apart. Through my technique, I can create these drawn structures that appear to be on the verge of falling apart despite their actual strength. Through my drawings, I hope to speak about temporality not only through subject matter but also through the materials that I use.

MONDO: What’s your academic background? You just said you went to York for art, but what was your focus? Also, I’ve spoken with a lot of people lately who say BOOURNS to art school. What’s your prerogative?

AM: BOOURNS? Wow, that’s harsh. But art school probably isn’t for everyone.

I did my undergrad in visual arts and focused on drawing and installation. I had some amazing teachers that really encouraged me. I can’t deny the fact that I was sometimes frustrated by projects and classes that I had to complete and that I would sometimes wonder why I was going to school for art, but all in all, I think York was good for me. I came out having a better sense of the work that I wanted to make and what really interests me.

Click for larger imageMONDO: You’re currently doing an artist’s residency at Harbourfront. What does this involve? Do you like being surrounded by other artists, or would you rather work alone? Is there a sense of camaraderie down there by the lake?

AM: The residency at Harbourfront was probably the most exciting thing that happened right after I graduated from York. We are given studio space to do our own work and the equipment to do so. As a resident I can also use the space to teach classes. I think that most amazing thing about the studio is the people that I’m getting to know and work alongside. There are lots of different artists working in various areas (glass, ceramics, metal and textiles) so the studios have been a place where I have expanded my view of what contemporary craft can be. Community is so important when you are an artist because doing work by yourself can be kind of lonely. I like feedback and the dialogue that comes out of working in a space with other people.

MONDO: You mentioned that you have two shows up right now. What are you showing? Where? How long do they run?

AM: I have a show up at Archive Inc. Gallery and Art Library which is ending this Thursday. This was a solo show of some of my most recent work. There was a lot of figurative work in this show; a game of cat’s cradle and lots of hands.

The other show that I am a part of is an artist’s in residence show which is at the York Quay Gallery at Harbourfront Centre. For this show I made two life-sized thread figures that are pulling each other apart. They’re really big! Working with this scale was a really BIG change for me. This show is really great because I’m getting to show my work alongside so many artists that I admire. This show is on until Sunday, March 2, 2008.

MONDO: Seems like you’re a very busy lady. Do you have any shows planned for after these two?

AM: Not yet. I’m planning on sleeping though. I’ve kind of been off that for about two months and I think I’m going to see what its like again…I remember that it was nice…

See more of Amanda’s work at

Artist of the Week: Carolyn Tripp

Posted by art On January - 29 - 2008

Carolyn Tripp 6By Miles Baker

MONDO: Hi Carolyn. I’ve known you for a few years now, and I know you’re an artist – I bought stuff from you at Canzine one year – but I don’t actually know what your primary focus is. So, what is it?

Carolyn Tripp: I specifically chose a long time ago not to choose one thing or another, or that is to say, one focus or another. I guess that’s to my detriment, but I can’t imagine functioning otherwise. Or something like that.

MONDO: Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but you have formal artistic training through the Sheridan/U of T art and art history programs, yes? How was that? Are you happy you went to school?

Carolyn Tripp 5CT: Yes, I did go there, and I’ll never be sure whether or not it was the right thing to do. So many things depend on geography more than anything, you know? It’s an excellent program, but it’s sadly devoid of “hardcores,” save a few that I still know and love.

What I mean is it wasn’t a portfolio-based program. A lot of people went there because they wanted to move onto teacher’s college or some such. That’s fine and all, but it made for a lot of artwork with no intention to continue upon graduation. That was always a continual point of frustration for me, as I could never see myself stopping.

And, while I’ve always contended that it doesn’t matter where the art “comes from,” it sure as hell made for a tense environment. The 22-year-old me liked to take things very, very seriously, you know?

So I guess the short answer is: yes, it was important for me to go, but as aCarolyn Tripp 1n art school, I think it was lacking in camaraderie. On a social level, it just bred a lot of resentment.

MONDO: When you look back at your art, do you seem themes develop? Various angsts, or what-have-you, playing themselves out in your creativity?

CT: Yeah, particularly in earlier stuff. A lot of young resentment, but that’s pretty much out of the equation now. You can’t make angsty artwork if you don’t feel that way anymore, you know? There’s only so much art where you can get your hate-on before you suffer the consequences of employing obvious clichés.

Now, having said that, people still call me on being a bit “off” or “twisted.” I guess I’m trying to employ a better sense of humour about it!

MONDO: Slightly off topic, but I imaginCarolyn Tripp 4e you’ll have something interesting to say about it. What do you think the internet will be for artists in the present and future? Or has it already played itself out?

CT: I’ve mostly used it for research and promotion, like anyone else, but some people have done some fucking interesting online projects, haven’t they? Even bands get wacky with their websites these days, which to me is encouraging.

I think it’s played itself out in the basic forms, but with the onslaught of high speed, it can only get more interesting. Art and music just make it into more homes, with the obvious downfall being the exponential increase of total unmitigated crap. All you can do is hope to inject what you consider quality and hope that it works.Carolyn Tripp 3

Additionally, I think the level of interactive art pieces has yet to see the end of its rope. I’d really like to get into online projects that rely almost exclusively on user input. I think that’s a lot more exciting than, you know, just the drawing.

MONDO: Can you talk about some of the pictures on your myspace that you showed me, in particular the red blot ones? Are those watercolours? They remind me of cultures that you’d look at under a microscope. How crazy or wrong am I?

CT: A bit crazy, but no, not wrong. I guess I never thought of it that way. They’re part of the “Gaming and Tourism” iniCarolyn Tripp 2tiative, a zine with which you became familiar a while back. Just exploring guns and gun culture as it relates to hunting. Then there’s always the poor bastard that turns the gun on himself, you know? The hunter with no deer present. Eek. I sometimes call him the “tourist.” And yes, they are watercolours.

MONDO: Time to inflate your ego. If an art student wrote a paper on Carolyn Tripp, what would you hope the thesis would be?

CT: Oh they wouldn’t, darling, they wouldn’t.

Did you ever hear of Freud doing some funky shit with his work before he died? Apparently he totally screwed around with his research to the point where he knew it would be difficult to unravel once he was dead. Just a bunch of papers that people knew came from a really smart dude who devoted a lifetime to one specific thing. What a jack-assy thing to do, eh?

Anyway, I have yet to even reach the point where my work can be synthesized into a thesis. It’s definitely starting to, but it’s nothing to write home (or teacher) about. Not yet.

Artist of the Week: Emily Gove

Posted by art On January - 15 - 2008

Afternoon TeaBy Miles Baker

If I could cue the Alfred Hitchcock Presents music, I would do that now.

There is something about mild-mannered people and murder mysteries. Old Hitchcock, while an intimidating man no doubt, seemed so non-violent in all of his cameos and introductions. Emily Gove has a similar manner. I don’t think she has (or will ever) murder(ed) people, but her art is littered with the suggestion of murder. Last year, her photo “Naughty Secretaries Club” won her a couple grand from BMO for their graduating undergrad competition. Now, Gove is taking the next logical step: trying to win awards at the grad student level. That, and trying to get her art shown.

MONDO: Murder plays a large part of a lot of your art. What is it about murder that attracts you to replicate it?

Emily Gove: I think it’s less the act of murder itself that I’m attracted to, and more the representations of murder and violence that you see on the covers of pulp novels and movie posters from the 1940s and 50s. There’s one cover in particular that I really love (I can’t remember the title, unfortunately) that shows a woman’s legs hanging out of the trunk of a car, but she’s wearing these totally pristine red pumps. I think it’s that kind of absurdity that I love.

Weak FieldMONDO: I think a lot of your pieces draw from different decades. Which eras inspire you the most, and why? It’s not just the clothes, is it?

EG: Right now I love the 1950s and 60s, but I’m getting a little bit more into the 70s and (early) 80s now. I pretty much like everything except the 90s – too much neon. I’m also pretty into like, now, because at this point people are going back and combining things from different eras, which is what many of the photos do. In one of them I used a Belle & Sebastian poster, which looks like it’s from the sixties, but it says “compact disc” on it, so even if you don’t know the band you can tell that it’s modern. So I was kind of trying to make a nod to the fact that the images are made of up different elements appropriated from different places, as well as appropriated clothing and props.

And no, it’s not just the clothes, it’s also the wallpaper.

MONDO: You also happen to kill yourself a lot, using digital editing software to have yourself replicated multiple times. You’ve done it in a few different photo series – has it meant different things in different series?

Am I That Easy to Forget, 2007.EG: Not really; the whole killing myself thing isn’t meant as any kind of metaphor or anything (I guess it would be quite literal if it was). I started out working with the pulp novel art, and recreating it using only myself because it was easier than finding models. It got bigger from there. I think at a certain point it got a little out of control, like when I was five different old ladies drinking the blood of schoolgirls, so I’ve been kind of trying to reel it in a bit lately.

MONDO: You’re doing your masters in art at York University now. Can you talk a bit about how academia plays a role in art in general and also in your practice?

EG: Um, this is a hard question for me right now because the role of academia right now seems to be to drive me bonkers, but maybe you shouldn’t print that. My thoughts at the moment are that I enjoy learning about theory, but if I think about it too much while I’m working, it kind of takes the enjoyment out of everything. So right now I’m trying to keep the two separate and maybe they’ll come together at some point.

MONDO: If you had to fistfight any other artist in the world, who would you choose?

EG: Can they be fictional? Ben Affleck in Glory Daze. What a douche.

Artist of the Week: Nik Dudukovic

Posted by art On January - 8 - 2008

By Kerry Freek

A few months ago, in a fit of inspiration, I decided to interview Nik Dudukovic in person using a newfangled analog recording device called a hand-held tape recorder. We had a great conversation about his incredible artwork. Alas, my computer crashed and I lost the transcribed interview — sad. Even worse, I’d since taped over our original interview! (What? Tapes are scarce nowadays!) Luckily, Nik is both an amazing artist AND a sport, so he agreed to revert back to the old-fashioned, tried-and-true method of the email interview. Here’s said doc file in all of its digital glory — and heck, after all that trouble, he got to be the first AofW of 2008!

MONDO: When we last chatted, you talked about your departure from printmaking and editions. What draws you (pun wholeheartedly intended) to drawing? Does it make you feel different? Do you value one medium over the other? Where else do you dabble?

NIK DUDUKOVIC: I’m sort of glad that our recorded interview was lost, because I feel like I rambled a whole bunch — mainly on this question. The background, I majored in printmaking, but I was so dissatisfied with some of the things that I was doing that I didn’t create a single print during my entire thesis year.

That’s when the mylar drawings took the spotlight. I’ve worked with mylar for a long time, but never as consistently as I am now. The problem with my approach to printmaking after 3+ years was that I would justify an image based on the fact that I could reproduce it perfectly hundreds of times. I wasn’t spending much time bettering my technical skills or flexing my analytical muscles.

At this point, I have the technical knowledge to reproduce any image that I want through printmaking, so I’d rather spend as long as possible working on each drawing. As for dabbling, I’m hoping to have a sculptural work finished by April for my next show. It’ll most likely be some sort of layered wood with ink and latex paint, probably derived from the background layer of a drawing or something like that.

MONDO: Your ink, acrylic and mylar pieces were recently (and still are?) on display at Freedom Clothing (939 Bloor Street West). There’s an interesting mythology going on here — civil war-esque military uniforms, eagles, goats — what were you trying to accomplish?

ND: I first started working with this imagery in the fall of ‘07 during my thesis year, but the mythology and sensibility of the work has evolved over the last year or so. Exploring a fictional history through fabricated documentation, the work merges the nostalgia of turn-of-the-century cartoons and illustrations with the familiarity of blemish-free draftsmanship. The characters are compositionally graphic from ten feet away and meticulously detailed from ten inches away, while the choice of materials and cohesive technique allow for a fluid — yet selective — narrative to emerge. Artist statements can be tough; one word out of place can change the meaning of the work for the both viewer and the artist.

MONDO: One of these drawings contains a scroll that says “Navigator, Lee Sheppard.” Who is Lee Sheppard? Why is he the navigator?

ND: Lee Sheppard is one of three editors of the annual Pilot Pocket Book, along with Reuben McLaughlin and Bryan Belanger. The Pilot book publishes national and international poetry, short stories and illustrations. Every artist that has a portfolio published is also asked to illustrate one of the stories in the book, as well as a portrait of its author. Lee’s story is called “Navigator.” He’s a dope writer and I’m glad to have worked with him. You can check out more Pilot stuff at

MONDO: There’s a fine line that separates self promoter from sellout. You walk said line pretty gracefully, like a natural master of good vibes: no gold chains or creepy infomercials involved. In plain words, you’re an entrepreneurial guy making a living as an artist, and you pull it off without looking like a jerk. How do you do it?

ND: You spoke too soon! My infomercial premieres tonight and I plan to make four million bucks and buy a gold basketball and a pair of platinum Adidas Pistol Pete’s and destroy the playground courts for eternity… but maybe in a way that’s not selling out. Shit, I don’t know.

Yeah, it can be a fine line, but as long as you’re doing work that you like and keeping it fresh for yourself then the line isn’t much of an issue. The debate between self promotion and sellout usually works itself out anyways. I’ve tried to work with bands/labels/magazines that I wasn’t entirely impressed by and it usually ends up in some sort of confrontation with us parting ways in the end. On the flipside, working with people whose work I respect makes the final product ten thousand times better because they like my work as well and the public is able to acknowledge that aspect of the professional relationship. I’ve had people ask me to paint living rooms and draw tattoos, and I wouldn’t consider that selling out in any way because neither tattoo artists nor mural painters aren’t sellouts, y’know? Like I said, it can be a pretty fine line, but you’ll know if you ever cross it and you’ll try your hardest to cross back.

MONDO:What are you working on right now?

ND: Right now I’m working on a show that I’m co-curating sometime in late-February, as well as pieces for a solo show in April at Omy Gallery (1140 Queen Street West). I’m also working on graphics for Let’s Go To War, an electro hip-hop band that just signed a four album deal on Last Gang Records, and a show/party for next Nuit Blanche. Oh, and I’m going to school, which I can’t stand.

MONDO:Where can people see your art?

ND: I have prints at Freedom Clothing, and I still have older drawings hanging at Omy Gallery from 2007. Other than that, is often updated. However, I’m not uploading any new work until after the show in April. I wanna keep it under wraps instead of ruining the surprise months before the show.

Artist of the Week: Suzanne Coates

Posted by art On December - 18 - 2007

By Kerry Freek

When I returned from nine weeks in Europe, every crevice of my backpack was stuffed with ephemera: ticket stubs, brochures, keepsakes — but nothing was sorted. Those things, still mostly ragtag, now occupy a plastic bag behind my bookshelf. Unlike Suzanne Coates, my Northern Irish travel partner, I’ve had little urge to categorize and document my trip. Though Suzanne and I were only in London together for four or five days, she managed to fill an entire (organized) book with her tidbits (and handwritten travel log, to boot!). How has collecting and categorizing influenced this young textile artist’s work? Find out below.

MONDO: Unlike most of our previously featured artists, you work mainly in textiles. Tell us what sort of stuff you do.

SC: I’m known for my felt-making in conjunction with decorative techniques such as machine and hand-stitching, painting, photo-transfer, encaustic painting (with wax) and bead work for embellishment. I initially settled on felt-making after watching a demonstration in my final year and spending hours trying it out in the studio afterwards. I found the process fascinating and experimented with different methods, thicknesses, embedding objects and fibres in the wool, using colours and much more. Eventually I hit upon Nuno felt, a method of felt-making which incorporates material. Pieces can be made very fine, yet strong or built up, and the material provides a good firm base for stitch especially on thinner pieces. The property of Nuno felt which attracted me most however, was the way it reacted to dye. The merino wool and the scrim material I liked to use absorbed dye at very different rates enabling me to achieve dimensions in colour and tone in my work.

My initial interest was in travel, and of the memories and reflections associated with first-hand experiences of a city. This inquiry focused my working practice from the summer of 2005 onwards when I toured 11 cities in Europe, and kept a series of diaries and sketchbooks from which I worked. Benjamin Disraeli said that —

I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.

These un-seen remembrances take on the form of incidences and reactions. I aim to reflect the unique personal viewpoints, experiences and emotions concerned with the various places I visit.

Recently, mostly due to a 2 week trip I took to England with my grandmother, exploring my late grandfather’s side of the family, my work has become more reflective of people, friends and family, heritage and nostalgia. It incorporates old photographs, found items, jewellery aspects and ephemera. The other route that my work is taking, experimentally at the moment, is a more impressionistic, surreal route, which utilises surface design, stitch, layering and burning, always with the addition of a found item for the viewer to interpret in their own way.

MONDO: Crafting sometimes falls under the unfortunate stigma of grandmothers doing folk art stencils on their bathroom walls rather than “making art.” While MONDO doesn’t think crafting is derogatory at all, some artists are offended by the term. What do you think of this?

SC: I am a craftsperson. But I am also an artist. I really think it depends on how much money your work is selling for! I’m harking back to Tracey Emin, who uses ‘make do and mend’ fabrics to make quilts that sell for a fortune!

No really, I don’t mind the term at all, but I do think crafting and art are different things. Art requires thought and care and ideas. Craft requires the same things, but there is usually a much deeper purpose or meaning which drives art. Of course there are still some that believe that only painting can be considered fine art, but to each their own! Everyone has their own opinion, and as long as I can keep making my art my way then I don’t really mind what other people brand it as.

MONDO: You are a notorious collector. When we traveled together in London, you documented everything. Receipts, playbills, tickets, etc. You filled a whole book over the course of three days while I’d filled half a book after over two months of traveling. How does this idiosyncracy (read: urge to collect and document) inform your art?

SC: It has everything to do with my art. I have always been a collector. Three years ago it took me three car journeys to move house, this year it took me seven! I collect everything — objects; materials; beads; art equipment; movie stubs; postcards; boxes; paper; wool; books; magazines; socks; quotes and poetry; films; coins; feathers; websites; instructions; socks (for monsters); threads; canvases (which will get worked on some day!) The list is by no means exhaustible! The bigger the reserves, the wider the range of possibilities!

As my work relates to places I’ve been the notebooks I keep are a resource for me for two reasons 1) to remember where I was, what I did and what I saw in other words — what I physically did, and 2) to remember how I felt and how I reacted to things — emotions. Sometimes I lift information, images and drawings directly from my notebooks, or sometimes I incorporate them in more subtle ways, but ultimately, everything I do centres around information I have collected.

MONDO: What else influences your art? Why?

SC: I am influenced by the latest technique I try out, in the most recent book I’ve bought. I have a large collection of books covering everything from textiles and recycled materials in embroidery to graphic design and altered art. I love trying out new techniques, but I always tend to work felt, fabric or stitch into anything I experiment with. In the instance of my current printing phrase, I am trying to find a way to relate it back to textiles even marginally, because that is the media I am most at ease with, and for some reason it feels more personal when I can do that.

MONDO: Heroes / muses / admirations? Who and why?

SC: I don’t really have any heroes, but I really admire the work of Julia DeVille (Jewellery and taxidermy) and Ray Caesar (surreal computer generated ‘paintings’), both of whom I stumbled upon in MySpace. Very unusual and intriguing work. I tend to collect artists who inspire me as I go along (in the form of books, websites, postcards…)

Muses would be people I know or who are close to me for some reason. I have four very personal pieces planned out in my sketchbook at the moment and have started one. It’s the kind of work the titles will suggest the meaning for, but only the people involved (or the people who ask really nicely out of genuine interest!) will know exactly what it’s about.

MONDO: Future artistic endeavours (shows, projects, etc.)?

SC: My main goal at the moment is to survive my year of teaching practice! I will continue to experiment and make work in my free time to supply the Yard Gallery, who are currently holding three of my pieces in the run up to Christmas. There are many things I would like to try, including enamelling and getting back into silversmithing, so those might be projects for the summer!

I am also interested in getting involved with an Artist Trading Card group (not for profit works of art, playing card size, which are made and traded). I think ATCs would be a quick and fun way to experiment, engage with other people who make art, and get my work seen.

Since graduating, Suzanne has shown her textile work at the Yard Gallery in Holywood, Northern Ireland, and recently in the Common Grounds Cafe in Belfast. View more of Suzanne’s art at

Artist of the Week: Michal Majewski

Posted by art On November - 20 - 2007

By Kerry Freek

Known for his metal tendencies and great fluffy chops, Oshawa’s Michal Majewski is a welcoming, down-to-earth show promoter, band member, label owner, and graphic designer, among other titles. Last week we had a conversation through email which began with the Polish word for “hi”. Ladies and gentlemen — Michal Majewski, friendly printmaker.

MONDO: Cześć Michal! Do me a favour and describe your style.

MICHAL MAJEWSKI: What is style, but a visual idea presented to a viewer, mostly generalized into a category for easy reference. Sure. However, classification has many outlets that form the overall picture. In my case, the line, image, and type make up the backbone of most designs. Photo collage, humour, the abstract, and the bizarre fill in the gaps. Awkward sensations are kindly welcome too.

MONDO: You’re kind of manic, Michal. Your prints range from very clean to very messy-but-detailed designs — you try out a lot of different media and styles. What happens inside your head when you start doing a show poster? How do you arrive at a final design idea — what’s your process? Do you take into account the bands on the bill? The type of music? The venue?

MM: The bands involved play a major role in the concept of each poster. There’s certain ideas that work with one act and won’t fit another. Lyrics, song titles, the general band image help me shape the overall piece. A good brainstorm session is key, accompanied by a pencil and a sketch book. There are always wild ideas floating around in my head, weird visions I want to bring out into the open. Medium used reflects the final scheme, but image and type usually dominate. That’s what pulls you in.

MONDO: How did you come to be making show posters?

MM: It began when I started booking shows, around 2001. To promote the gigs, I started making really poor cut and paste flyers. As time went by, my craft improved and a certain recognizable style developed. I didn’t start screen printing my posters until a year or so ago. Before, it was mainly photocopy, digital and stencil work. Fun, nonetheless.

MONDO: Tell us about your metal label. How did that come about?

MM: Music is a big part of my life. Record trading has been an avid hobby of mine that first sparked the interest of releasing music; my own band’s, as well as others’. The label became another way of reaching music enthusiasts entwined in the metal, grind, hc, punk underground around the world. For example, trading music with someone from the Canary Islands! The first record was a collaboration between two bands I really liked and knew well (Ontario vs Quebec). The result was a split 7″ that got the whole affair off the ground.

MONDO: Describe your studio/workshop.

MM: It’s a marvelous space of clutter; unfurnished with scattered tools, scraps of paper and hardened paint. Portioned on one side with the digital links, while the adjacent half is a print-friendly, hands-on kind of environment. Books, supplies and my music collection hold the middle ground. All fitted nicely into bare, white walls, looking westward onto a semi-busy residential street.

MONDO: You’re currently set up in Oshawa. I haven’t been living in town since the early days of Cuff the Duke and The Mark Inside. What’s the music scene like there now?

MM: It’s a thriving scene with filtered quality, where solid individuals work wonders under limited conditions. The lack of cheap, all-ages venues has always been a problem. Most bars, on the other hand, only cater to a certain music style. A confusing city, with an interesting music, past and present. Bands move on and move out, some choose to remain. The Velvet Elvis keeps the right spirit alive within the live forum; The Dungeon is still kicking, too.

MONDO: Got any future art-related plans? Do tell.

MM: Other than the ongoing art/design work I’m involved with, there is a plan for a small expo in the new year. A series of art prints, mixed with rock posters and some wacky t-shirt designs. I have thought about inviting other poster artists from around Ontario to participate in this event, here in Oshawa. Should be a slice!

Want to check out more of Michal’s prints?

Artist of the Week: Meaghan Olinski

Posted by art On November - 13 - 2007

By Siobhan Watters

Waterloo artist Meaghan Olinski was courteous enough to answer some questions regarding her striking portraits of bygone starlets.

MONDO: When did you first become interested in Old Hollywood, and when did this interest translate into inspiration?

Meaghan Olinski: I suppose that it is not exclusively Old Hollywood that I find attractive but generally the era itself. My admiration and fascination (and perhaps even obsession) are not only evident in my work but also my life. It’s not something I only think about when I am in the studio; instead, it’s an ongoing fixation for me, one that I’ve been working through for quite a few years now.

MONDO: I live in Waterloo and have admired your work without knowing who the artist was. I was always amazed at the almost photographic finish to the pieces, which is owed to your wonderful execution of light and shadow. How do you create such a “perfect picture,” so to speak? Do you use models, paint from other images, or use your imagination?

MO: Creating the “perfect picture?” I don’t know that there is such a thing, which is something that I hope the viewer will, to some degree, question, recognize, or think about when looking at my work. My constant goal, to create something flawless and ideal knowing that it is impossible, is both painfully frustrating yet completely satisfying. Because of the technique I often use — staining acrylic paint into unprimed canvas — there is no room for error. Yes, I suppose it can be considered somewhat masochistic; however, when the end result is achieved, it is that much more rewarding. Most of my sources come from film stills, headshots, photography and advertising from the 1930s, 40s and 50s, although contemporary images currently influence my work also.

MONDO: It is evident from your work that you are inspired by cinematic artists. Who might some of these be? Also, which visual artists are you fond of?

MO: While there are too many to name, I am undoubtedly fond of film noir, early cult classics, and B movies from the 40s and 50s, which provide me with much inspiration. Certainly the studio photographers’ use of poses, diffusion, and lighting is fascinating to me and is something I strive to make reference to in my own work. As for visual artists, well, there are even more “too many to name,” but I’ll do my best (some or none of which show any obvious signs of directly influencing my work): Cindy Sherman, Barbara Kruger, Franz Kline, Jenny Holzer, Cathy Daley, and more.

MONDO: When you sold your first piece, what was your reaction? Excitement? Feelings of loss?

MO: Initially, excitement, then loss, and then excitement again.

MONDO: In your Artist Statement (2006) you said that “through [your] work [you] explore the glamour, sexuality, allure and artificiality of [the 30s, 40s, and 50s].” Do you think these things have survived into the present?

MO: I think these are things that have survived into the present and probably will never diminish (thank goodness!). However, what fascinates me most is the sense of nostalgia that I, along with so many other people, have surrounding that era and the yearning for an “idealistic” past, whether we have actually lived through that time period or not.

MONDO: How important is it that the space you display in suits your subject matter? Can you give any examples of venues that you found really suited your work?

MO: I think that whatever the space — whether it be a gallery or a public space — the work and the viewer’s perception of it will be influenced by the surroundings. I enjoy the demand for attention that a gallery imposes upon its viewers and the context it gives to the work, however I find it just as gratifying to catch a viewer off-guard when they enter into a space and find art when they’re not expecting it. As for a venue that really suits my work? The Jane Bond [in Waterloo], of course!


MONDO: What projects are you working on now and for the future?

MO: I am currently working on large-scale, charcoal drawings. They make reference to women’s lingerie, such as stockings, garters, and camisoles, items that are commonly unseen, but are being made public through my work. And while I am always exploring new ideas and projects, I can’t deny the fact that I have stumbled upon something that has become somewhat of a preoccupation for me.

Keep an eye out for, coming soon.



MONDO is a non-profit, weekly, Toronto-based, online magazine that focuses on arts, culture, and humour. We’re interested in art of all kinds (music, theatre, visual art, film, comics, and video games) and the pop culture that we inhabit.The copyright on all MONDO magazine content belongs to the author. If you would like to pay them for more content, please do. To contact MONDO please email us at