Interviewing an artist from Montreal was important for me cause the perspective is very different from the artists that only come for the festival. Local artists have other things to say, have other opinions about the festival. Jason Botkin is probably the most involved artist with Mural Festival because he is very close to the founders and actually part of the equation that resulted in the birth of Mural.
By: Andrés Medina / @delabuena
How did art come to your life?
As a kid I always liked art, I drew. But It wasn’t my passion, I was really into snowboarding, it was hot sh*t for me. I went to Calgary, in Alberta, and picked up a semester of art school there. The plan was I would do school there until December; snow comes, boom I’m off to the mountains and build up as a professional of snowboarding. But the first day, the first class, it was so intense it blew my mind.
You were actually thinking of being a professional snowboarder?
Yeah! But after that very first class, I was completely changed… I snowboarded five times that year, and then I just quit. It was an instant transition, it wasn’t even a transition, it was just like there was no more confusion about who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do at that point. But you know, the whole exercise was… the teacher asked us to go out into the hill and pick a tree and draw it as well as you could, the very first day. And everyone was kind of stressed to draw the best tree; we did that for like an hour and a half. We came back, took a break, and then he was like, “Ok spend another hour and a half, same tree, same position and now draw the tree as badly as you possibly can. Do the poorest drawing you can.” Fuck that! All right! By he time we had to talk about the two drawings, I realized that the better drawing was really a drawing about insecurity and about how nervous I was about drawing; it was a shitty drawing. The other drawing wasn’t great, but it had so much fluidity and freedom of just being itself… that’s when I realized that drawing could be talking about movement, relationship about body and surface, ideas, emotions; it could be anything. It blew my mind because at that point I thought art was about illustration, I was really excited, and I realized that I understood only a very small amount of the subject.
When did you start working on the street?
Well, after I graduated I stopped making art completely for a long time; I just decided it was bullshit. I got lots of different jobs, I went to Japan, I studied ceramics… I really didn’t understand it anymore, the whole politics of the role of art, and all the weird shit that was in relationship with the artists… the galleries, the institution… I was not down with it. I was doing shit at school, drawing in napkins or a piece of newspaper and the whole idea was that the drawing was going to live but only for two days. So I was doing a version of street art, a version of something that had no value, had no longevity of life. It has always been that way. But then, in 2003, I got back into doing art maybe, and around 2008, I did a show at a gallery; in 2009 I did another one… and then right after that second show, I started the En Masse project that was all about black and white collaborative drawing, working with different artists from different backgrounds. That happened in 2009 and then the project started expanding quickly, many of those artists where street artists, graffiti artists. And so, that was my first introduction to that community. So the fact that street art didn’t really have a value or the fact that it was temporary, was immediate for me, it was like, “Yeah that’s f*cking rad!” And for me the biggest influences in school where the Mexican muralists. That was the sh*t for me, I was always political and passionate about social issues, and fearlessness… So that was my introduction to street art.
Talking about the situation that makes us evolves as human beings, does your art have a speech? Does it have a socially conscient message?
It depends on the context. Originally, when I was approached, not the festival but the business association of Saint-Laurent, my first reaction was to do a series of homeless people on the street, portraits of homeless people. Not to glamorize their situation but just to paint a portrait of hope and compassion, because I think homeless people, part of the reason we are afraid of them, is because they are like us but without the nice clothes and sh*t like that; they are us but naked and very vulnerable and often very disturbed. And there’s a big problem with homeless people on that street… the business association was like, “No! Can’t have that, that’s too much, that’s a problem for us, we want to get rid of the problem…”, and I was like, “No! It’s the elephant in the room, you can’t pretend it’s not there, it’s f*cking huge and it’s sitting right down on your lap.” So I said, ok, what is the alternative? They said, “We would love it if you could paint some waves and plants… nicer stuff, colorful; we want colors.” So, at the end of the day, the goal is the same: we want to improve our community, we want to improve the environment, we want to be able to do things better. The tools are different, but I’m still able to talk about it you know? So every time the press comes or whatever, we are able to have this conversation.
(Jason Botkin / Photo by: Medi)