I moved to Mile End at the beginning of last year. I relocated there primarily to move in with two girls I had met through writing for another McGill publication, and I was of the firm belief that they were way, way cooler than me. This was proven to me one of the first weekends spent up in my new northernly hood when I had my first introduction to the Mile End arts scene. My roommates suggested we check out a small exhibition of, Toronto-based illustrator, Jack Dylan.
Dylan is probably best known for his Pop Montreal posters and concert posters done during his time spent living here after moving from London, Ontario. Inspired in part by vintage poster art, the tell-tale aesthetics of a Jack Dylan poster are his solid, unbroken yet fluid outlines, diffused with a wide palette of mostly muted, pastel colours reminiscent of a washed-out photograph from the seventies. His poster art clearly stems from the comic book tradition, often incorporating superhero figures such as The Flash, Catwoman, Spiderman among others, and fits aesthetically within the tradition of late 90s graphic novelists and illustrators such as Adrian Tomine, Daniel Clowes, and to a lesser extent Chris Ware. However, there is a link these three illustrators share to which Dylan can not stake a claim: all three have had their work featured on the cover of the New Yorker. Dylan, admittedly inspired by Tomine, Clowes and Wares’ scenes of mundane-city-life-turned-beautiful, so often gracing the cover of the infamous magazine of the culturally elite, has yet to add his name to the roster. But herein lies part of his charm.
This past weekend, I came full circle by marking the anniversary of my one year spent in Mile End by coincidentally offering my patronage to Mr. Dylan once again. My roommate and I took a quick trip around the corner to the Puce POP: DIY and Craft Festival and were lucky enough to find the artist himself selling his prints and posters behind a booth. The headings on his business cards read, “Jack Dylan,” underneath, “famous artist.” My roommate joked to him that she hoped it was a “self-fulfilling prophecy” and Dylan, whom, I feel compelled to mention is captivatingly attractive, replied “so far, not yet.”
Tomine, Clowes, and Ware may have the famous artist thing down with the New Yorker, but what Dylan represents in his art and in his career is the spirit of the young Montreal artist. Looking around Puce Pop, and events of its kind, the undeniable reality is of broke-ass 20- or 30-something artists trying to sell their art to other broke-ass 20 or 30 something artists. Initially it sounds bleak, but for art, Montreal is the city of dreams. Our city is breathlessly alive with music, visual art, fashion, journalism, and theatre. You come to Montreal to play and leave for Toronto to work. But what if you never leave? The superhero figure in Dylan’s art, always an adult in comic book costuming, is the extrapolation of the Montreal dreamer who refuses to give up the pure pursuit of beauty through art — the “Peter Pans” who choose to live in the fantasy, even if “the fantasy” means working a shitty job in the day, creating art in the evening, and accepting the fate of being more broke each day than you were the last.
I bought a print from Jack Dylan. It was of a girl dressed as Catwoman, petting a yellow cat in a Mile End alleyway. The sky is a soft pastel pink and the rooftops of St. Michael’s and St. Anthony’s church, visible from my apartment, peek over the buildings in the distance. I bought it in the hopes that when it comes time for me to grow up and leave the city of dreams for the real world, it will always serve as a reminder of the time when I believed that creativity and imagination were all anyone needed to be happy. Dylan himself has since “grown up,” so to speak, and moved to Toronto, but a recent Twitter post leads one to believe that part of his heart remains in the city of art and dreams forever: “Good bye Montreal, you were just as I remembered you. Please never change.”
There are several reasons why you may be familiar with the work of artist Jack Dylan. It might because his illustrations have found their way into the pages of The Globe and Mail, Vice, The Walrus, Maclean’s and Toronto Life. It may be that you spent some time in Montreal during the mid 2000’s, where the lampposts where constantly adorned with his poster art for the weekly shows at Friendship Cove, a highly influential performance space where Dylan lived and hosted events for a four year period. Or perhaps his work merely resonates because of it’s inherent stylistic familiarity; after all, he is most influenced by that which surrounds us everyday: commercial art. Dylan’s work is the sort that finds it’s way onto both magazine covers and your living room wall.
Société Perrier caught up with Dylan for a few drinks recently in the Roncesvalles Village neighbourhood to talk about about his work, his influences and his move from Montreal to Toronto.
Société Perrier: First off, why poster art and illustration?
Jack Dylan: I grew up in Stratford, Ontario where there were a lot of great theatre posters all around you all the time. That, as well as the commercial art that we interact with everyday, and many of us don’t often notice because advertising is all around us. In particular, older drawn and painted poster art appealed to me. Stuff you would see in bars and restaurants. Advertisements from another era, usually from the Art Deco period, that establishments started to use to decorate their walls.
For a while now, it seems that commercial art has become acceptable for people to hang on their walls decoratively. Much more so now than, say, prints of what you would call actual artwork; paintings like Starry Starry Night are no longer really acceptable to hang on your walls for decoration, whereas commercial work is now finally okay.
When I thought about making art, I thought to myself, ‘well, it should have a title on it and it’s okay for it to look like commercial art, even though it’s not’.
That and, of course, the New Yorker covers. They have always been a huge influence on my work.
SP: How did you find yourself becoming involved in making posters for many of the bands in Montreal when you lived there, and for the Pop Montreal music festival?
JD: Well, I started off by making these illustrations that were fake commercial art, so actually they were decorative art, but imitated the commercial style and were advertised something in a way that was not actually real. So, basically, I was a pretend poster artist before I became an actual poster artist. And these things started selling.
Then, I moved to Montreal in 2003, and me and a few friends set up this warehouse space that was going to be a bunch of artist studios. Many of the guys were musicians and we quickly realized that we could have shows there, sell beer, put up artwork on the walls and meet girls, and we figured out that it was more fun to do that then just do art shows or poetry readings!
Music, of course, was the big thing in Montreal at the time. So, I became the resident poster artist. We’d do three shows a month. My best friend Graham (Van Pelt) is behind the band Miracle Fortress. He would do the sound and someone did promotion. I wound up doing a poster a week for four years. It was a good gig because, when you’re an amateur that’s trying to get good it’s really valuable to have a constant deadline to force you to produce lots of work. Because it was work that advertised music shows, it was going out for an audience to judge immediately, with some guy sticking your work on telephone polls all around the city as soon as you finished it.
SP: What’s moving to Toronto been like for you?
JD: Well, I’d moved away from the music community a few years ago, even when I was still in Montreal. This was mainly because I got tired of living in a loft where shows are played. It gets tiring being in that environment after a while, as you can imagine. I did it for four years, living at the place that became known as Friendship Cove, and there was a recording studio there, so it was neat to live in one of the key places in the music community, but I decided to move towards doing work for the publishing world. Magazines and whatnot.
But in all honesty, things haven’t been entirely all that different here in Toronto, in terms of the way I work or the type of work that interests me. The one thing that is different is that music posters paid pretty terribly! These bands and promotors couldn’t afford to pay much. So, I would basically just create whatever I wanted and they could take it or leave it. I became sort of known for that. Now that I’m working more with magazines I am dealing with creative departments and creative directors, which is actually nice because I am given a task and a series of guidelines for what I’m supposed to do. There’s more guidance. More focus.
The one other thing I started to do once I came to Toronto was that I started to make work without having to worry about making it to advertise for someone or something. So, I would concentrate on trying to capture a neighbourhood, for example. I guess I finally became comfortable with making work for it’s own sake and not worrying about having to produce it for some external reason. I’ve come to really enjoy that.
You can find out more about Jack Dylan’s work and upcoming projects at his site, jack-dylan.com.
At the centre of the Drake Hotel’s rooftop bar, a buxom blond is entertaining an entranced audience by doing nothing more than perching motionless on the edge of her chair. The crowd that has gathered — an eclectic crew of men and women, young and old — gaze at her intently, glancing away only to scribble furiously on the large pads they clutch in their laps.
“Life drawing is like exercise for artists,” says Jack Dylan as he quickly traces the curve of the model’s back with one fluid stroke of his pencil.
Dylan is a prolific fine artist and illustrator for magazines and newspapers, and today he’s playing host at Life-Like Drawing at the Drake Hotel, a series of free life-drawing sessions that take place every Tuesday until the end of the August in the Drake’s rooftop Sky Yard.
Billed as a “drink and draw,” the event is definitely a step up from high school art class. There’s music, sunshine, cocktails and a rotating roster of “creatively clad” models plucked from the Drake’s own staff.
Dylan himself knows a thing or two about posing: “It’s funny — I actually worked as a life-drawing model myself when I was in art school,” he says with a grin.
Today’s model, 22-year-old Shannon Murphy, works at the Drake General Store and has never posed for artists before — an activity professionals will tell you is infinitely harder than it looks.
Clad in jean shorts and a tank top, she appears nervous as she strikes her first pose, but quickly relaxes as Dylan calls out for her to switch it up, guiding the group through a series of one, two and five minute poses. Murphy extends one arm and then pulls the other back to mimic shooting a bow-and-arrow. “I’m reenacting the zodiac,” she exclaims as the group chuckles. “That’s brilliant,” says Dylan.
The artistic skill level of those in attendance varies wildly. Some of the first-timers chuckle at their own oddly proportioned but nonetheless charming efforts, while the OCAD students and professional artists that dot the crowd dash out impressively lifelike renderings of Murphy’s seated form.
As the evening winds down, participants peruse their neighbours’ work. Regardless of the finished product, everyone involved seems pleased to have spent a creative evening in the sunniest classroom in Toronto.
Caroline Macfarlane and Vanessa Nicholas explore Toronto’s creative community.
The Good Artist: Jack Dylan
Who are you? I’m Jack Dylan; illustrator, adventurer, Carter Democrat. ————— What is on your ipod/ what is on your book shelf? On my ipod: The Score to the original Batman, Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack, Max Roach. On my night table: The New Yorker,The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, by Michael Charbon, and For the Relief of Unbearable Urges by Nathan Englander. ————— Where do you seek inspiration? The city: it’s parks, museums, buildings and people. Also vintage magazines from the late 1800’s - 1960’s. ————— When did you start creating? I used to design Cat Hats when I was 3. It’s a challenging business. ————— Why Toronto? I needed a change. It’s our Nation’s unofficial Capital. I like it’s scale, it’s speed and it’s history. I also moved here so I could vote for Ford.
Hailing from Montreal but now happily entrenched in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods neighbourhood, Jack Dylan is an illustrator whose work has graced the pages of Toronto Life, The Walrus, Maclean’s and The Globe and Mail. Best known for poster art reminiscent of what you’ll find on the cover of The New Yorker on any given week, Dylan’s wares are on display this weekend at the annual Outdoor Drake Spring Market. Alongside handmade jewellery, one-of-a-kind art pieces and vintage furniture, Dylan’s posters depicting the Trinity Bellwood’s gate and a Mount Royal beach scene are up for grabs.
If you’ve ever wondered what went on inside the head of a talented illustrator with a penchant for podcasts and sandwiches, look no further. We cornered the busy artist recently and asked him about the most scathing criticism he’s ever gotten and his favourite place in the city to put pencil to paper.
Having moved to Montreal to Toronto, would you say your illustrations have changed in any way?
It has, though I’m not sure if that’s due to the city, and not to something more natural. — I will say that I think about Design a lot more than I used to, and that’s had a big influence on my work. Toronto is a big design city, it loves all design, and there are so many talented designers here who put attention into everything, so that’s very inspiring. Montreal, the Mile End neighborhood where I lived, it’s not really like that as much. It’s aesthetic is a little more casual, a little more messy and not at all glossy, and that’s on purpose. So it’s exciting to be in a place were people are very dedicated to the design of everything. It’s got me thinking that there’s a lot more I’d like to do.
What is the process of creating your art like?
I tend to work best in blocks, so I like to clear a few days for any project and just keep focused. I’ll start with sketches on scrap paper, surf around Google images and create mood boards. Then I’ll scan a rough pen drawing and start tracing over it in Photoshop. In between I take power naps, and buy sandwiches. During a medium sized piece I’ll listen to around 5 to 10 hours of podcasts.
Where do you find inspiration?
I’m very lucky that I get to work from home and have the freedom to slack off now and then, because it really comes in handy when I need to get ideas. I like to take walks a lot and just look around and think. My personal work draws a lot from the city and day-to-day life, so I’m always looking for something that inspires me. Today I saw a woman in a beautiful business suit, with her hair pulled back. She looked like she was on her way to a law firm but she was carrying two cat carriers like brief cases, and she had her daughter with her. Her daughter’s coat was white with big colourful polka dots and was in total contrast to her Mother’s grey jacket and skirt. That really stood out to me. I like the moments of uniqueness and color in everyday life.
How would you describe your art stylistically?
Lately I’ve been using the word “modernistic” because I’ve been using a more historically influenced style. It’s inspired by poster and cover design from the 1920’s – 40’s, because that (I feel) was really the golden age of illustration in print, and that’s what I try to recapture in my work. I think my style has become about colour, pattern and design, and I’ve started constructing images with shapes and collage, almost as much as I draw them the conventional way. So it’s very “modern” in that sense, in that my images are slightly abstracted and mechanically made, and draw upon a specific tradition. Sometimes I call it “romantic modernism” but that’s maybe a bit too heady.
What’s your favorite medium? Why?
I’m very interested in Art Deco, and those stylistic techniques all fit in very nicely with PhotoShop, where you can easily use straight lines and shape tools to construct images. It’s a little hard to believe, because I started out as a painter. But now I really like making an entire piece on the computer, partly I think because I’m not always creating a giant mess and having to hunt for misplaced tools all the time.
Why are you drawn to poster art?
As a working artist I discovered that poster was a great venue for art to express itself, because it’s public and because it’s constantly in demand, with a new poster job always just around the corner. So it’s an amazing platform for the artist to experiment and be inventive with. Before that though I also always loved poster, because I truly believe that there you have some of the most beautiful works of art. Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Magazine and Comic Book covers all spoke to me as much or more than other images in “Fine Art” because in poster the art is always intended to deliver a message or tell a story. And I loved that an image could be both beautiful and narrative. Yet poster is always just hinting at a larger story, which is I think, what makes it so enticing.
Where is your favorite place in the city to work?
Just my studio on Gore Vale, which faces Trinity Bellwood’s. There I can always walk in the park if I need a break, or people watch.
Who are some artists you admire?
Too many to tell. But I think everyone should know the names Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, and Jillian Tomaki. Their work in contemporary illustration has been so amazing, combining aesthetic design and story telling in ways that are just so impressive. Some of my historical influences are the poster and cover artists A.M. Cassandra, and Joseph Binder, and the hundreds of amazing illustrators who’ve worked for The New Yorker over it’s history.
Do you remember the first piece of art you ever created? What was it?
Yes. It is was actually in fashion of all things, as a milliner; designing bowler hats out of construction paper for my cat Casey. I was three, and a failed hat often ended in tears.
If money nor time was an object, what’s an art project you’d undertake?
Actually I would love to design a house, or municipal building like a library, or a public park.Creating a real environment that people could actually inhabit, instead of just drawing one, would actually be a big thrill. But on the more realistic side of things, a children’s book, or a graphic novel.
What’s the most flattering compliment you’ve ever gotten for your art?
I think when Joanna Newsom (an American harpist, pianist and songwriter) stole a bunch of the posters from the venue, and then got a manager to ask me for more. That was a nice moment.
What’s the most unflattering critique you’ve ever gotten?
Those all probably came from myself, which is a good or bad thing depending on how you view it.
What piece of art are you most proud of? Why?
I think right now, my “Trinity Bellwoods” piece. I know that it’s one that resonates with a lot of people in the neighbourhood, and it’s great to feel like something you’ve created will be held onto like that.
Why are events like the Drake’s Spring Market so important for up and coming artists?
For me, as an illustrator — which is an isolating job — markets like the Drake’s have been a very important way for me to get my work out there, and meet face to face with people who know it. Often people are surprised to meet me, or that I’m “the guy who created all those posters.” And that’s very valuable because, a) After you’ve been working alone for months on something, It’s really nice to hear after that people actually like it. b) It’s a really important way to directly support works that otherwise would not get funded. Often my non-commercial work is what sells the best at markets such as the Drake’s, and if it weren’t for that revenue these works would earn very little. So it was through these types of events that I was really able to start to create the kind of artwork I most wanted to produce.
Local artists, sometimes, are like superheroes. In the day, they slog amongst the average citizen to pay the bills, and at night they become their alter egos and unleash their powers on the world.
At least that was the inspiration for Jack Dylan’s posters promoting POP Montreal, the city’s rock festival.
His drawings showed Spider-Man taking a break on a rooftop with a newspaper and a banana, and Catwoman carrying groceries home through an alley and stopping to pet a cat.
The 27-year-old illustrator recently left Montreal for Toronto. While he mostly works in editorial design — with his images appearing in such publications as Maclean’s and Toronto Life — he still creates posters for himself. Dylan spoke to us about his first love:
I started out doing paintings that looked like posters back in art school in London, Ont. I loved the look of image and text and the way that a poster can be a title page or symbol of a larger story.
After art school, I moved to Montreal and started doing band posters. I did it at an intense rate — a poster a week for almost three years.
It’s part of a tradition that I really like. The New Yorker cover illustrations where they capture a scene from everyday life but do it in a way that makes the city look beautiful — it celebrates the city and the small moments that come and pass very quickly.
What’s unique about posters is on the one hand, it’s temporary because the posters in the street advertising things will quickly be torn down. But on the other hand, it has incredible longevity. A poster might remain as the last artifact of a concert or a production long after the band has broken up or the participants are gone. They can, in a way, become almost like a tombstone.
Jack Dylan has been un flâneur about town for years and he didn’t even know it.
“It’s a pretty well-known term in circles who study modernity and art history and things like that, but I actually didn’t know about it until a year or two ago,” said Dylan. “I realized, ‘Oh, that’s what I do.’”
Un flâneur has a couple of different connotations: here in Quebec, it’s the term used to describe a loiterer. As coined by Charles Baudelaire however, le flâneur is someone who strolls around a city, observing and experiencing the different people and places.
It is this concept that characterizes the retrospective exhibit of Dylan’s work at the Red Bird Gallery, showing from August 27 to September 6, where a large collection of his posters, as well as many never before seen original drawings, will be on display.
Dylan is well known for the posters he’s designed for local bands and concerts over the past six years–from a stained-glass cathedral façade shaping the words “Arcade Fire” to Marvel Comics-inspired covers depicting superheroes hanging around in classic Plateau scenery for the annual POP Montreal festival. His style exemplifies modern illustration typically found on the cover of The New Yorker—and it’s no accident.
“I’m really heavily influenced by The New Yorker,” Dylan admitted. “The covers have a lot to do with flânerie; it’s very premised on the same concept. The New Yorker is like the publication for the flâneur, by un flâneur. It’s that city-centric, bourgeois kind of thing.”
One of the trademark quirks of Dylan’s posters is that they often have little to do with the kind of music the poster is promoting.
“It might be relevant to the music if I know the band very well,” he explained. “But a lot of the earlier posters I did were for small, independent bands.”
“[Between] 2005 and 2008, I was making nearly a poster a week, and I would typically just do whatever was on my mind,” he said. “That’s part of the advantage of doing posters: there’s no art direction and since they aren’t paying you very much, you get total freedom. If I wanted to make it look like a New Yorker cover I would go ahead and do it, even if it was going to be a hardcore show.”
Some of these iconic posters will be on sale, framed and in large format, alongside a display of hundreds of chronologically-ordered drawings which Dylan describes as “the bones of the posters.”
He will also be giving a talk on the concept of le flâneur and how it has factored into his work along with living and working as an illustrator.
“I’ve made so many posters, close to 250,” he said. “The thing about illustration is, you can do it just about anywhere with Internet access. I’ve even been able to travel while doing freelance work.”
With this retrospective exhibition comes a new chapter for Dylan. Purely self-taught, Dylan has recently made the move to Toronto to give art school a shot.
“I feel very fortunate that I moved to Montreal in 2004 and got to be there for the past six years—from the time when bands like Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade were unknown until the time when they became a world phenomenon,” he said. “But that was a while ago now and it’s still a good place to live. Cities have to be good places for artists to live in order for them to produce work. The thing that changes that is when cities become too expensive and that hasn’t happened here yet, not by a long shot”
As for what the future holds, Dylan intends to focus more on editorial illustration than on the posters that launched his career.
“Over the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot fewer music posters,” he said. “It doesn’t get beyond around 10 in a given year whereas before it’d be around 56. I’m doing a lot of editorial work for magazines now, which I really enjoy. When you get a good art director, it can be really satisfying, in the same way that doing music posters was.”
Dylan’s got good news to share for hopeful prospective illustrators looking to go down the same path: “It’s a very easy industry to get into,” he said. “You just need about $500 to start up, and you need a website. Then you just send [off your] stuff.”
Le Flâneur: An exhibition of posters by Jack Dylan will take place on Friday, Aug. 27 and run until Monday, Sept. 6 at the Red Bird Gallery (135 Van Horne Ave. West). The vernissage takes place at 7 p.m. Dylan’s artist talk will be presented at 8 p.m.
This article originally appeared in The Link Volume 31, Issue 02, published August 24, 2010.
I first met visual artist Jack Dylan at POP Montreal a few years ago. He was living with Graham van Pelt, the guitarist for Think About Life and the front man for a band-you-should-love-by-now, Miracle Fortress. At the time, they were both based in Friendship Cove, a massive, bi-level loft space that doubled as a weekend show venue. (They’d previously been evicted from a similar space dubbed The Electric Tractor.) Dylan has been handling poster duties for POP Montreal for the past four years, combining images plucked from superhero comics with portraits of Mile End’s hipster royalty. (He’s also responsible for some truly epic oil paintings, including one that showed a bereaved Al Gore cradling a dying panda bear.) I spoke with the artist about the newest round of posters for this years POP, which include inspirations from Edward Hopper, Woody Allen, and local Montreal make-out spots. — Scott Indrisek
How did you first start doing the posters for POP?
It was four years ago. I had been doing some posters—at the time our venue space, The Electric Tractor, had just been shut down. We hosted some good shows there: Japanther, An Albatross, The Gossip, AIDS Wolf. POP rolled around. I did five posters then, all of different artists who were playing the shows battling super heroes. Very standard, the way when Wolverine meets Spiderman, and there’s a misunderstanding, so they fight, but then they become friends. It was kind of based on that premise, that genre of comics.
When did you start working with the superhero theme?
Right then. That was the first time. I consider it playing the old standards, when an illustrator does a superhero. Each illustrator will typically tackle a superhero one time for something, and they’ll do it in their own way. Chris Ware draws superheros, Adrian Tomine draws superheroes, all the contemporary underground comic book artists who aren’t Marvel guys still do it. Like a jazz standard.
Do you consider the poster work a calling card for your fine art career?
Originally it was that. But then, as can happen to painters, illustration can take precedence. Postering was a gateway into professional illustration. Now I do a lot of work for magazines, fashion illustration. And I’m doing less posters. It’s probably going to go that way as I get older; I can’t afford to work for like $25 a day or it becomes more and more intolerable. I’d say the practice was the most important thing I got out of it. Also, there’s no better audience than having your stuff right out on the poles.
Do people take your work less seriously and say, well, you’re a poster artist, not a fine artist?
There’s still some skepticism. I think that’s probably fading as they realize—anytime the artist ‘arrives’—in that their name is already known—that’s an advantage. Nothing to sneeze at. Some posters are really shitty and they just carry a message and they’re what you would expect. Some go above and beyond and really take it to that art form. They discovered there was a huge market for those vintage posters; things that used to be advertisements fifty years ago for Coke, [they’re] now revered like fine art. The Moulin Rouge posters, vintage posters for wine.
After communities and scenes and decades fade away, the poster remains as the chronicle of that time—there’s articles and recordings, but the poster art is left as the really major visual touchstone for what people will think of when they look back at that time. It’s nice in that way.
Do you have any ambitions to work on a graphic novel? Has there been a Montreal graphic novel that tells the story of the past couple of years?
I don’t think there has. I do feel kind of pressure to fill that void. I’m hopefully going to be working on a comic book that’ll be set in Montreal next year. This being Quebec, I’ve applied for a nice grant for that. Unfortunately that’s probably the only way I could really do it at this point—it is a really time consuming process. [It’ll] probably take me three months to make something that’s twenty-four pages that you would consume in ten minutes or less.
Let’s talk about specific show posters from this year…
I try to stick with the superhero theme, and the theme of Montreal as a template overall, and I try to make them look like comic book covers. Within that I try to make it as original as I can. I found an extra concept this year: reinterpreting classic, iconic images that would tie into the different events of the festival. For Film Pop, I did a famous scene from Annie Hall—except I made them super hero hipsters and I set them in Montreal, atop of a popular theater that a lot of people like to sneak up on and make out on top of. It’s called the Rialto. You can get up the fire escape and just have a beautiful night with that special girl after the show. [Laughs].
One of them is a reinterpretation of the Edward Hopper painting, “Nighthawks at the Diner.” I used a really popular greasy spoon called Nouveau Palais, the place to drag yourself to at 4 a.m. for that extra plate of greasy fries or something—definitely an after-show ritual a lot of people would relate to. I put in some local artists: members of Plants and Animals, other visual artists.
The last one I’ll mention is based on a photo of John Kennedy from the ‘Ask Not’ speech; I used that for the POP Symposium. That one has the creative director Hillary, in the Kennedy role, and another creative director as Jackie O…and then a crowd of about 400 hipsters—a lot of real ones, some fake ones, like Batman. I tried to include the Montreal heavy hitters; Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, [plus] a lot of the new ones. Some of the guests from the festival: Nick Cave, Irma Thomas.
What about local acts or bands you’re excited to see this year?
I think Caroline Keating is really gonna get some fans as soon as she gets out of Montreal and Quebec. She’s super young, she hasn’t had the chance to leave the nest. She plays piano and sings—kind of a little bit of that Joanna Newsom power. Then there’s D’Ubervilles from Toronto. Mothers Fathers are cool.
What about the political posters you’ve made?
Were in the middle of a Canadian election, as I’m sure a lot of Americans don’t know. A lot of Canadians don’t even know, because we don’t care—everyone’s fixated on Obama and McCain up here. We have this real liberal leader candidate this time. He’s the one who’s supposed to overthrow the conservative government if he can. His name is Stéphane Dion. He looks like an accountant who’s about to microwave a TV dinner. He has no visual charisma, or charisma at all. He’s the exact opposite of a Barack Obama. The case is kind of hopeless unfortunately—a lot of the blame is put on him. I feel sorry for him. I feel like people just say that because he happens to be a small guy who wears glasses. I redid an image of him in the same exact style as Shephard Fairey’s Obama poster.
In Canada we have now five political candidates, only one of them being conservative—which means even though we’re all liberals we wind up electing a conservative because the left vote is totally split. Good system, eh? People aren’t excited about any of these candidates?
That is the complaint. People have definitely lost enthusiasm. Our government keeps on collapsing now. A lot of people don’t have the patience for it. I love it though, I love following it. I think our Canadian politics can be just as exciting—especially when you have the Marijuana Party in Canada, and other major parties pick up their former members and run them as major party candidates. Quebec marijuana is really on the grow, as an industry.
How would you say Montreal has changed? Is it a better city than five years ago?
The gentrification is very real, rents have gone up, a lot of people have moved here. It’s become a little more Anglo. A lot of people moved here to kind of make it in an artistic gold rush, five years ago, and a lot of those guys are signed now, working full-time as artists, promoters, managers. I think the Montreal story is a pretty positive one. We haven’t ruined it yet. The condos haven’t driven out all the artists yet—maybe in another five years, [but] for now it’s still a beautiful city. Good things are still growing here. Someone was talking last night about a neighborhood behind Mile End, called Parc Extension?
Parc Ex. Basically, Mile End would be akin to your Williamsburg. Parc Ex would be Crown Heights. So basically it’s a much less nice neighborhood that’ll be the next frontier, farther and farther away from the actual downtown. Unfortunately the nice architecture runs out after Van Horn. When the artist community has to cross the other side of the tracks—literally—it’s not gonna be nearly as beautiful of a neighborhood. A lot of the buildings are from the ’70s…Whereas the classic joke of a Montreal apartment is something that has high ceilings, bay windows, crown molding, marble fireplace, hardwood floors, for $300 a person. Now that rents are going up, that’s going to be harder for the average hipster to get. [They’re] gonna have to start living in some uglier places.
“It’s weird. I was a poster artist but didn’t know it,” says Jack Dylan, a painter and illustrator many Montrealers know as a poster designer first and foremost. Since he moved here in late 2003 at the indirect encouragement of Seripop, Dylan’s designs have become inseparably identified with events at the now-defunct Electric Tractor space and its direct descendent, Friendship Cove, both of which have provided him not only with a home but with a surrogate family of young artists. Moreover, they’ve become immediately identifiable as distinctly his own.
Looking back on his art-school days, Dylan sees the seeds of his poster-art career in the oversize mock posters and book jackets, for Shakespeare plays and his own imaginary crime novels, he was painting at the time. Even his approach to colour, laid down in solid blocks, augured the silkscreened works he would come to have in his portfolio, one less and less related to the hermetic fine-arts world.
“I love the music scene for its energy. Coming from a fine-arts background, I realized that the audiences weren’t in the galleries. They were at the shows. You can get any kind of audience to go see bands in Montreal, all the time. I loved that energy. I wanted to do art shows that were a big event. At my first one-man show, we had can-can and burlesque dancers, absinthe being served, people showing up in costumes.
“In Montreal, just doing fine-arts shows, I wasn’t getting enough of the energy that I wanted. I guess I was greedy, I wanted attention. I noticed that the musicians get quite a bit of attention, and if you want a piece of that, the thing to do is get involved. As someone who can only play the kazoo, I had to find my way.”
In recent months, Dylan has embarked on efforts in the realm of comics, which in turn has blatant precedents in his poster work. His designs, usually photocopied, are characterized by clean, bold linework, deadpan wit and not-infrequent word balloons. They also, as often as not, function within a series of related designs which construct, if not a functional narrative, at least a larger arc imbuing each design with extra impact.
Dylan cites Adrian Tomine and Jaime Hernandez, the comic field’s high-profile observers of quotidian detail, as strong inspirations, but his personal favourite of his own poster series, the “hipsters versus supers” as he calls them, indicate that it goes back way further than that. They show recognizable figures from the local indie scene (including his now-girlfriend, Giselle Webber of the Hot Springs) locked in battle with superheroes from the Marvel pantheon.
“The reason I can draw is because I was drawing comic-book characters for a long time—the Marvel characters in particular. Those battles have been happening in my head for a long time. I was addicted to television as a kid, so these people, Captain Kirk and Spider-Man, are really real to me. They’re ideas that I know very well. I want to be Spider-Man! Making the artwork is the closest I can come to bringing the fantasy to life.
“Also, I’ve always seen a parallel between artists and superheroes, especially a team of artists. I like the idea that one person’s a silkscreener, one’s a sculptor and one’s a singer—and together, they’re a team, a force. Everyone has a different power. At the Electric Tractor and here at Friendship Cove, that’s the idea.”
The hipsters-versus-supers series and other fantastic bursts of pop-culture cool may be cute, and other series offering portraits of political figures and celebrities have their punch as well. But it will be argued that Dylan’s most effective works are those that seem like random panels from a comic book about ordinary scenester life in the 514. Familiar faces and landmarks fuse with captured remarks to blur the line—almost erase it, in fact—between real life and the artist’s simulacrum.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I do impressions of everyone I know. I’m a mimic. Any friend I have, I can do an impression of. I’ve always had a weird way of relating to the world, more as an imitator than as an actual normal person.
“It’s all about observation, really, and seeing life as a story. I think it has to do with the conditioning of watching the world through television in the first place, having that distorted perspective ingrained in me. Not really making the separation between cartoon and reality, seeing people as characters instead of real people. That’s been a problem of mine—girlfriends have gotten mad at me, friends have said, ‘Everyone’s a character in your world, Jack, and it’s not always nice.’”