Lightness of Being: A Conversation with Artist Julia Monson

The first time I went on Julia Monson’s Instagram to look at her work, I laughed out loud. It was a picture of a drone that did it, one that had “send nudes” written on the side. I just about lost in on a streetcar.

Monson’s work is unexpected. It’s light but can easily be deconstructed as commentary on today’s society. Monson’s colour palette is pretty and feminine but the humour is dry and crude. I was so enamoured with her illustrations that I was excited to pick her brain for an afternoon, a task made easier by Monson’s open and lighthearted disposition.

We sat down in her studio, tucked in the back of her Toronto apartment, to talk creativity, Instagram, and fidget spinners.

Julia Monson in her studio.

Natasha Grodzinski: Thank you so much for inviting me into your space! To start off, tell me about your artistic background — did you study it in school? Was it always a passion you had?

Julia Monson: I went to OCAD for criticism and curatorial, which is far form what I’m doing now. I’m not curating and I’m not in criticism [laughs]. But that’s fine, at the time I wasn’t ready to fully commit myself to making or creating. I was more interested in a critical aspect. I minored in painting and drawing in my last two years. It took me six years to get out of OCAD. I took a break for a little bit, and it wasn’t until maybe last year that I thought, “I’m just going to illustrate, I’m just going to do that,” and now that’s what I’m doing.

NG: How did that transition come about, to get to illustrating as a job?

JM: I think I’m just a creative person — I like to make things. It was just a feeling, like I need to make something, to put something out into the world that’s mine. I think a lot of my artwork comes from my comedic voice, so I feel like there’s an urge to get that out. I though, I’m not going to be a standup comedian. I can draw, so I guess I can just do both simultaneously.

NG: I noticed that, looking at your work. There’s a level of humour to it, very tongue-in-cheek.

JM: It’s very observational and very personal too. I think that’s always been a way of coping with those urges. You know, I really want to get this out, but I’m not sure the level of seriousness I want to go with it or have attached to it. I’m not going to start a YouTube channel and just rant, but I will for sure draw some funny drawings that I think convey the same message with how I’m feeling.

NG: Do you do a lot of reflections on current society in your work?

JM: Most of it is attached to technology. I really like the iPhone in a lot of my stuff. A lot of it I liked to be attached to Toronto. I don’t know why, maybe because everything that’s personal to me is also form here. I just draw from what I know.

NG: Did you grow up here?

JM: No, I grew up in Hamilton, but I’ve been here for 10 years now. I moved when I came to OCAD. I found an independence here and I’m attached to it. It’s very dear to me.

NG: When you really began working on your illustrations, did you still consider it a hobby or did you think, “This is something I can do.”

JM: I think I’m in that transitional period now. I do waitress on weekends because rent is ridiculous. Unfortunately I can’t be freelance illustrating full-time. There are months where I definitely could have, but it’s the fear of, what if I don’t make enough one month? Or what if I can’t live up to that standard and it takes the fun out of it? A lot of it is doubt, but the dream is that one day I could. Anything to do with art, I’d like to be working in that field. Right now, it’s still a bit slower.

NG: What’s your freelancing experience been like?

JM: It’s been a big learning curve in terms of pricing my work and understanding the value of my time. There are some companies I absolutely love working with like Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Recently I just did a bunch of drawings for them and that was so fun because they approached me in a way that was, “We already love your work and we love your voice.” I’ve also done logo work where I thought, “This is a nightmare. This is nowhere close to what I want. I’m not going to use any of this in my portfolio.” I’ve also learned how to deal with people. That is not something you typically think of when you sell your work. Choosing a client has been a huge moment and learning experience for me.

NG: What’s that process like?

JM: It’s a lot of emails. It’s a lot of, “Hey, I’m thinking this, now I’m thinking this, now we want that.” There have been moments where I’ve had to take a step back, whereI’ve thought I shouldn’t have taken that client. It’s another reason why I don’t mind bartending on weekends, because it means I get to make the art that I want to make.

NG: Let’s talk more about your illustrations. Do you primarily work in watercolours?

JM: It’s gouache that I water down and ink. I should probably get into watercolours but I’m so obsessed with my colour palette right now and I’m a slave to it. I don’t really stray away from it, but I would like to work with water colours soon. I also did a screen printing class about a month ago. That blew my mind and I had so much fun doing it. Working in inks and acrylics is really fun.

NG: So you have a piece of the Venus de Milo that I really like.

JM: Thanks!

NG: And I love how you take essentially millennial stereotypes and make fun of them.

JM: Yeah, I enjoy that. I like to make fun of everything. I don’t want to be taken too seriously and I think that’s reflected in the medium. It’s just paper and colour, ink. These are typically cheap materials and I actually like that.

NG: It’s about keeping that lightness, right?

JM: Exactly! Light is a good word. Just easy and casual, but funny.

NG: In your freelancing experiences have you ever come across a client that’s saying, “We want serious art?”

JM: When it gets a bit more stiff, I get these alarms going off in my head. I don’t know if they’ll let me do me. With Her Majesty’s Pleasure it was great because I think they pushed me more than I pushed them in some moments. They understood my aesthetic and the ell of crudeness I was coming from. I would love to keep doing stuff like what I did for them, that’s a bit more edgy and less conservative.

NG: Are you doing a lot of shows lately?

JM: I did a group show at Northern Contemporary which was a lot of fun.They’re an illustrator gallery and that’s awesome. I met the curator at the Artist Project I did back in March. That was interesting. I don’t know if I’d do it again but it was a cool experience, to have so many other people look at your art. I want to do more shows in the future, I think, because it’s so great to be able to talk about your work with other artists and with any type of viewer. That’s why I think I love Instagram so much. Someone in Turkey or someone in Italy can see my stuff. It’s such a great suppository for my work especially given the nature of my work. It’s this daily feed of nonsense and it’s great. As a graduate of curatorial practices, Instagram is the best thing ever. It just makes so much sense. I really try to hone down on that and use it for my artwork.

NG: Looking on your Instagram, it seems like there is a lot of interest and lots of people you can engage with about your work who you wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

JM: And it’s going back to the humour thing, too. Is this working or is it not? Is this funny? It’s so instant, you can get that validating right away, like okay, what I was thinking is funny.

NG: Where do you get your inspiration from? Does it happen instantly on the street, where you see something and think it’s funny and know it‘ll work?

JM: Every time it’s happened I’ve been on the street. Laughs. I’ll take these long walks sometimes. It takes me 40 minutes to walk to work and I don’t do it often, but when I do I’m constantly writing notes in my phone and constantly getting ideas. Most of them start off as captions or they start off with, “Okay, today I saw a girl on her phone walking six dogs.” I did this series one about every girl in Toronto, then trends of fashion and what they’re wearing, what they’re doing. A lot of it has to do with technology. Selfies with an iPad. That’s hilarious. I need to draw it. The fidget spinner, I think it hilarious. I have one at my desk now because I’m trying to think of more ways to incorporate it anatomy drawings. I love observing females, not in a judgemental way, but just to observe. I’ve always admired females.

NG: Toronto’s so big and weird that you can see a lot.

JM: Yeah! In a 40-minute walk I have enough material for the week. Some ideas take longer to manifest. It’ll start out as something small and end up getting bigger. I really enjoy drawing and making fun of the LCBO. I thought of doing this merchandise line based on LCBO apparel, but that’s a small idea that can get bigger.

NG: Love that idea!

JM: It’s so intrinsically Ontario, so specific to the area. It’s something we all deal with. Again, it’s super millennial, kind of personal but also more relatable.

NG: But the millennial humour is relatable. It’s dry, it’s sarcastic, it’s pretty dark.

JM: It is dark! It’s getting really dark! I like that. I think we should embrace it. Everything is meme culture or can be explained in emoticons. We’re all mirrors of how we were raised, I guess, and as much as I like to seriously delve into it I also like to make fun of how not serious it is. Anything to do with school debt, or I cant buy a house, you know? These are things we’re all dealing with. It’s the reality of our situation. I think I was also fed this fallacy of, “Do what you want, you can make a career out of it and be happy,” but I don’t think that’s the path everyone was fortunate enough to take. I think I’m feeling that a lot now. I’ve always been creative but I don’t know if it’s something I necessarily need to make money off of — it can be a way of life I stay true to. If money comes along with it, that’s amazing. If I can make a lifestyle of it, that’s another thing. But I don’t think I’m there quite yet.

NG: As you said, you’re transitioning.

JM: I like to think so! I’m still relatively new to it. I’m still learning what works, what doesn’t work. I’m not 100 per-cent on my philosophy for it. It all comes from a personal level right now.

NG: All of your pieces are your babies, but is there one piece you have that really represents your style?

JM: I love the Venus de Milo one with the selfie. I did two still lifes recently and I like the idea that things can describe us. That was really interesting, to juxtapose this still life of my studio. I’m actually more attached to the idea. The way I feel about the drawings is one thing, but the way I think about where they came from and how they transpired is what I’m obsessed with. I wouldn’t say there’s one particular one that makes me say, “That’s me.” They’re all a collection of my thoughts and how I’m feeling.

NG:  Like journalling?

JM: For sure. I like to look at it that way and then I’m not too previous with my ideas. This day is happening now, I can work with this idea, then tomorrow there’s another idea.

NG: A real stream of creativity, then.

JM: When you don’t get so previous with them, you just get them out and it keeps you going. It’s kind of lame but there was this quote on Chef’s Table. There was this dude who as amazing. He was killing it in his restaurant and then he went, “I’m leaving to start my own.” The owner said, “If you leave, the dish you made here is going to be ours.” The chef says, “Don’t worry, I’m going to make more.” I thought that was so cool. We can’t be too previous with these ideas or thesespmrts of brilliance. We need to move on. That’s why I love working with paper. They’re just pieces of paper. I get it out of my mind and I’m done. What’s next? It keeps me in a cool frame of mind when I’m walking down the street. I’m not too tied to one focus. I’m constantly moving. I’ve actually never thought of it that way but that is how I work. I’m building my philosophy now.

You can find Julia Monson’s website here and follow her on Instagram hereContinue following our arts & culture coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Meeting Melvin Sokolsky – Notes from a Student

Martin Harrison in his introduction to Seeing Fashion, an Arena Editions’s collected works of Melvin Sokolsky’s photographs from the ’60s, tells the story of the photographer’s encounter with Edgar de Evie’s Jell-O ad early in his career: Mr. Sokolsky, from the Lower East Side, young, and hungry, was greatly impressed at the $4000 advertising photographer received for the photo.

Speaking at length — befitting the rhythm of our long conversation, which flowed from photography to politics, writing, and our contemporary cultural issues — on the subject of honesty, Mr. Sokolsky pointed out that Harrison’s version, though with factual information, is not true: “He is saying, in other words, that Melvin was interested in the money and not the idea.” The truth: “That was not what it was about. I told [Harrison] about Edgar getting $4000 for Jell-O and that [Edgar] was insulted when I told him that I would’ve liked the picture better if the pouring Jell-O looked blurred.”

Mr. Sokolsky does not like inaccuracies. Naturally, he’s not so keen on superlatives either: “They’re embarrassing.” Which is another way of saying that to speak with Mr. Sokolsky and his works without a thorough knowledge, let alone a rudimentary understanding of photography, was a dangerous feat. No inaccuracies, either factual or essential. No gratuitous praises. As such, I talked little and listened. Dressed entirely in black, he led me around the gallery and talked about the various ways in which his works were conceived, produced, and received, and what they may or may not mean in the era of selfies and Instagram (the platform on which Mr. Sokolsky posted a picture from the Bubble Series and received meagre 50 likes).

Sokolsky was born in New York in 1933 and at the age of twenty-one joined Harper’s Bazaar’s distinguished staff, which included, among others, Nancy White, Diana Vreeland, and Richard Avedon. In 1962, Sokolsky photographed the entire editorial content of McCall’s. Within the decade, he began his career as a commercial director/cameraman, for which he has won twenty-five Clio Awards. He has been actively involved with the physical and technological natures of his craft, applying self-developed techniques to his works well beyond the spectrum of contemporary usage or even of Photoshop. With over half a century’s work, to say he is prolific is an understatement. The exclusive retrospective at Izzy Gallery (1255 Bay.) is a chance to view his iconic works, especially those from his time at Bazaar, including the famed Bubble and Fly series.

The glamour and drama attached to working in Harper’s Bazaar, however, was not the subject at the edges of our revolving conversation. Underlying it was a sense of urgency regarding the need to reclaim and reaffirm the values and definitions of creative endeavors. “Somebody told me — I forget who — something very early in the game that I still remember. ‘It is most important that you write everything accurately and vet it and back it up. Sadly, 90% of people who pick up the book will not read a word of it. Only the publisher, the people involved, care that much.’ But I’m doing it because, on this planet, there’s a history. Doing an honorable job is important because otherwise history is going to get distorted.” There are moral implications for the artist in doing things right. He was, also, pointedly telling me to ‘do an honorable job’ regarding this article. And with that in mind, let us revisit.

The Bubble Series, seen anew, carries a depth beyond the sensuality, joy, and vibrancy of the immediate image. Outside the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and the appraising gaze of its audience — who could spend at the time, as Mr. Sokolsky pointed out, enough money to buy a car on a Chanel dress —, the photographs can be viewed in an entirely different context — not as a icon but as a living work of art. The photographs on view, like the best of portraits, evoke narratives; the atmosphere of Parisian streets; the passersby who take respite from daily life and who, with their presence, reflect a viewer’s curiosity and awe.

Simone D’Aillencourt in a Nina Ricci by Melvin Sokolsky from Harper’s Bazaar, 1960

An even earlier work showing Simone D’Aillencourt in a Nina Ricci dress standing in a hovel atop a bed of old newspapers is perhaps even more to the point. The incongruity between the subject and her surroundings evokes much more than musings on Ms. D’Aillencourt’s beauty or the dress:

‘When you write something — would you admit this to me? — you have to have some kind of point of view that makes it special. […] I took that picture [of Simone] for Harper’s Bazaar, an upper class fashion magazine for wealthy women. Melvin Sokolsky came from New York’s Lower East Side and had no idea about wealthy women or fashion. He just liked taking pictures that were interesting. So I found this loft, a hovel, with walls falling apart and old newspapers. [The dress] was one of the most important New York collection dresses. When I put them together and photographed them, it was immediately rejected. It was accepted by the art director and the head of fashion but the editor-in-chief said, ‘Are you people out of your mind? The readers of Bazaar would not be able to identify with that place.’ But then Mrs. [Diana] Vreeland said, ‘That’s precisely the point. Juxtaposition — it’s a painting.’ […] So [the editor-in-chief] acquiesced — because of the deadline, not because she wanted to; there’s always a reason. Then letters came in asking, Who is this Sokolsky guy? I was twenty-one years old in 1960 and suddenly I got myself a reputation for ideas.’

The conceive a photograph as a template for an idea rather than a product with a function is the point of view. That with retrospect one can easily see how the colorful dress stands out in juxtaposition to the surroundings and thereby attracts even more attention to itself is only a testimony to the photographer’s vision. The magic of the image lies in creating a narrative through the incongruity of the subject and its surroundings. To see pictures from Mr. Sokolsky’s wide-ranging career is to see numerous changes in his style, experiments with contemporary photographic technologies and emulsions, and conceptual focus. His signature is less of a particular style or a palette but is rather his approach to photography itself.

look_down by Melvin Sokolsky from Harper’s Bazaar

This can be easily seen by opening a random page in Mr. Sokolsky’s self-published Archive. From fashion photography that reflects his fascination with surrealist art to reportage and portraits, they showcase his indelible style and continual innovation.

A conversation with Mr. Sokolsky is a variegated lesson; on photography; on the nature of working in the fashion industry; on creativity and craftsmanship. At one point in our meeting, he said, “What I’ve discovered is that most people are aesthetically blind.” But it was not a condemnation as much as a pedagogic reprimand. Reprimand so that we should see better. And in seeing better, do better even if it’s for that hypothetical 10% who do pick up the book and read or see a photograph and truly see.

Melvin Sokolsky’s Retrospective runs through February 11th at Izzy Gallery. ‘Archive’ is available for purchase at sokolsky.com. 

Izzy Gallery (1255 Bay Street) represents works of acclaimed photographers — Douglas Kirkland, DeanaNastic, and Lillian Bassman, among others. Each piece in the gallery is hand selected from the artists’ archives, which makes an opportunity to visit in and of itself a unique experience. 

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A Conversation with Bobby Mathieson

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‘Blue Sceptre’

A sense of recognition and confusion pervade Bobby Mathieson’s portraits, a feeling not unlike seeing a familiar object through a grassy haze or a chemically induced kaleidoscope. Or like catching Coltrane’s My Favorite Things right in the middle of his flight, in between the safe themes. At least that’s the initial reaction — Mathieson’s portraits reveal their depth through their textures and a variety of brushstrokes. His subjects, often figures from pop culture or historic images, are transposed out of their cultural or social contexts into the one provided by the artist. A spirit of transgression, truancy, and enfant terrible wash over the viewer through the haze. One can’t help but be giddy in the presence of such playfulness.

The fact that such feelings are akin to those induced by imposing on oneself a strict musical diet of MF Doom and Eric Dolphy is no coincidence. Mathieson is not only a life long musician but also a Doom aficionado with a penchant for blurring lines between the beautiful and the grotesque, the coherent and the distracted. The formally proportional works that reveal Mathieson’s time spent at Emily Carr Institute belie the fact that they are done in one sitting; like the best stuff of freestyle and bebop, done within the mood and rhythm ordained by the moment.

I met Mathieson at Project Gallery, the prominent Leslieville institute, where his latest solo exhibit was held. In person, Mathieson is calm and exudes confidence. He has a neck tattoo of Ms. Pacman and on the right sleeve of his beige coat is an oversized safety pin that holds the wrist strap. Alex Buchanan, one the directors of the gallery, who joined us, was kind enough to bring up a number of portraits for viewing during the conversation. It was a quiet Tuesday afternoon and the gallery was closed and we chatted about art, Doom, and the 60’s.

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‘KMD’ oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″

Hoon: How did you guys meet?

Mathieson: I contacted the gallery via Instagram. I liked the momentum the gallery had and their recent shows. You know, sometimes you plan a show for a year or six months but things don’t work out, life gets in the way. But this time around, I had a body of work ready and suggested doing a show and it happened to come about relatively quickly.

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Project Gallery — Leslieville, Toronto

H: How did the exhibition go?

M: We had fun. It was our first time working together but we both came through on our ends. It was a collection of works from 2011 onwards; a bit of a greatest hits kind of thing. So Alex, Dev (another director of the gallery), and I chose pieces we both thought were the strongest and are both happy with what we showed here.

A: Bobby is usually represented by Neubacher Shor gallery but we had this great opportunity to show his works here at Project Gallery during the interim period between shows. It’s a great platform wherein the artist has an opportunity to show his/her work more frequently. And for us, it was a chance to work with a more established artist.

M: It’s like a reintroduction — a reintroduction to a different clientele and the art scene in this part of the town. It’s a chance to grow and work with new people who are eager and like-minded.

H: Would you say your work is personal in nature or more conceptually and thematically motivated?

M: I’ve had my fair share of shortcomings and tragedies that I work through in my paintings, which come through in the final product. So they are personal in the sense that they help me work through my problems. It’s much cheaper than therapy [laughs]. But the contents haven’t been necessarily personal.

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‘The Black Lodge’ oil on canvas, 48″ x 48″

H: Tell me a bit about your move from Scotland to Chicago.

M: Immigrating to America turned me onto pop culture. At the time, there wasn’t much to look at on TV in Scotland. BBC was black and white. The culture felt a bit gray. For instance, I remember seeing an orange for the first time when my uncle brought them back from Florida and the orange was actually orange [laughs]. Then when I moved to America, it was like going from gray, black and white to full color — blonde girls in blue jeans, video games, big cars, and heavy metal.

H: Is there a reason for focusing largely on portraiture?

M: Portraiture is the main bulk of my work but there isn’t really a specific reason why I focus on the form. They are like odes to the things that made me and keep me excited as an artist. The process involves screen shots from movies from a theme or a time period I get into. There’s a sense of playfulness and trickery in these portraits. I don’t find them as gruesome as some people have made them out to be.

A: When I think of Black Lodge for example, I see that it is grotesque but it’s also saccharine with a bright pink background that it’s almost like pop art.

M: Black Lodge is of Killer Bob, the evil entity from Twin Peaks. It’s funny that you mention pop art. Andy Warhol, who’s been a huge influence for me, during the 70’s, did portraits for anybody who had the money or of things he found interesting — the Electric Chair and the death series followed by the flower series. I’m much like that in that when I get into a band or a writer, or even a pair of sneakers I love — I know I shouldn’t be wearing them everyday, but I do anyways. It can’t really be helped.

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‘Blanket Love’ oil on panel, 24″ x 30″

A: One thing that I thought was interesting was the idea of moving through history and being involved in the historical trajectory of the portrait as a form. You are working within a heavily weighted context. Historically, the likes of Velasquez or Goya painted portraits of people in the court. But what does that mean for us today and for contemporary art? Now the portrait is less engaged with politics and a fair amount of them are of people in the public consciousness, those who often belong to popular culture.

H: I’ve always found looking at portraits to be an intimate experience. But your subjects are also intimate in that they matter to you personally.

M: It’s really not necessarily my go-to phrase but, once again, they are ‘love-letters’ to things that mean something to me. They can be as small as a newspaper clipping or a random picture in a magazine. I’ll use the face from such clippings but also dress it up. Or I’ll cut out dresses and jackets and amalgamate them with a found image. For instance, one of my pieces is called Thespian and is of James Dean dressed as a 15th century pauper. People recognize the image but are simultaneously thrown off by the flamboyant and exaggerated outfit.

A: A lot of visitors comment on Love Blanket because the source image is so recognizable but the rendition is completely new. It’s made to look like a scene in a zombie movie [laughs].

M: Right, the photo was taken on the last day of Woodstock. It’s a piece in a series called Altamont, the emblem of the demise of the 60’s and what it wanted to be and represented. Sometimes, I’ll really get into specific time periods in music, art, or literature and mime those as well. I’ll be turned onto something by a friend or a sibling and eventually, through my work, make it my own.

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‘Pet Sounds’ oil on canvas, 12″ x 12″

H: Do you think those more well versed in pop culture have a more accurate or better understanding of your work than those who aren’t? 

M: I think my works give different experiences to different audiences. Access to information isn’t necessarily a key entry point to my works; and it isn’t necessary in order for someone to enjoy them. Those privy to pop culture references will have a better understanding of the titles — Pet Sounds and KMD, for instance. But I don’t think anybody walks away from them apathetically — I think my work is engaging for anybody willing to take a look longer than the time it takes for a piece to have its initial impact.

H: Your works often feature heavily layered oil painting. How did that style come about?

M: Transitioning from animation and having primarily been a drawer, most of my work had been flat for a while. Then I gained sponsorship with a paint mill in Amsterdam for three or four years; I would do some social media for them and in return would get boxes of paint. It was a good deal [laughs]. So I had access. At first I continued with delicate flat works then one day, I took some paint and threw them on the canvas. Jackson Pollock and Francis Bacon use the same technique as do many contemporary artists but the thing is, oil paint is very expensive. It takes a lot of guts and bravado. For me, it was a matter of having that much paint available. It came out of something practical, nothing romantic about it.

H: But you certainly created your own style out of that abundance.

M: Certainly. The texture makes the paintings visceral and the portraits become fleshy. They’re decorative and not technically masterful per se, but they engaging. 

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‘Deadly Flowers pt2’ oil on canvas, 18″ x 24″

H: What prompted you to paint flowers after so many portraits?

M: Landscape and nature are classic subjects for an artist and I wanted to explore them. I grew up out West but I never connected with nature — never went camping much or out on a kayak. But last year, during my residency at UBC, I reconnected with my time spent in North Vancouver. It was also during Spring, a beautiful time of the year in B.C. It was an opportunity to explore the classic subjects. But I also knew that I could paint flowers but still keep it aesthetically interesting and grimy. Dead Flowers and Summer Bummer are floral but the muted grays and blacks keep them from being simply beautiful things.

Bobby Mathieson’s works been featured in solo and group exhibitions in New York, Miami, Montreal, Toronto, and Southhampton; they have been photographed by Philip Chung, and reviewed extensively by various publications. His next solo exhibit is to be held at Neubacher Shor in Spring 2017.

Project Gallery, headed by Alex Buchanan and Devan Patel and located on 1109 Queen St E. in Leslieville, Toronto, is a commercial art gallery dedicated to promoting emerging and mid-career artists through various distinct exhibitions and projects. It was voted the Best Independent Gallery in NOW Magazine’s 2015 BEST OF TORONTO Readers Choice Awards. Its current exhibition,  Luminous, featuring artists Anser and SoTeeOh, runs until November 20th.

Hot List Profile: Mötem

Motëm is a musical artist and new age romantic from Hamilton. Figuring him out isn’t an easy process, but it’s entertaining and strangely poetic.

Photo by Eric Slyfield
Photo by Eric Slyfield

His twitter, like a moleskin for the thoughts of a meandering visionary, is as good a place to start as any: “i’m just a vampire spending money”. If that doesn’t help, Motëm’s described what he does as “strong individualist music not adhering to any specific genre but with interests in electronic, rap, hip hop, funk; associated with many Scandinavian musical styles like skweee and the sad boys movement.” For those that don’t know, the sad boys movement is pioneered by Swedish rapper and producer, Yung Lean and skweee is a diverse mashup of electronic and more traditional musical styles. We’re a little closer now, but it’s best to experience the one and only Motëm for yourself. He’s already released two albums this year — Where the Wild Things Are EP and Songs in the Key of Mötem

Where the Wild Things Are is equal parts pensive and turnt, taking you on an absurd, yet sincere tour of Mötem’s psychological landscape. “Tubular” starts on a note of synth-laden rambunctiousness. Repetitive and hard hitting, the track bangs all the way through. And he pumps out sensational videos at an insane rate. Watch, listen and try not to get tubular.

Songs in the Key of Mötem is a bit more blown out, with a proclivity for hype psychedelics. It’s much longer than Where the Wild Things Are and, understandably, the album explores new sonic grounds. “Goths Love” captures Mötem at his most tender — and ridiculous. Emphatic or absolute parody? It’s a fine line, to be sure. “I’m a goth because I love so hard. Shower me with roses of various shades of grey.”

Understood or not, Mötem plays by his own rules. Follow the unabashed poet on twitter via @motem or visit his website here.