In the mind of a
ALEXIS VAILLANCOURT AT 27 YEARS OLD JUST RECENTLY COMPLETED HIS FIRST SOLO EXHIBITION, L’ENFANT DES ÉTOILES, WITH A VIDEO OF HIM WHERE HE LITERALLY PAINTED UPSIDE DOWN, HANGING FROM THE CEILING. THE PERFORMANCE RECEIVED A LOT OF ATTENTION AND CURIOSITY, FILLING UP THE OPENING NIGHT AT THE WIP GALLERY IN MONTREAL.
What is your exhibition all about? What’s your creative process like and what medium do you use? This series was created from montages of photos collected on the internet that I then reproduce in painting. It includes large format, mostly using acrylic, and some of them have a touch of aerosol. It’s an interpretation of our internet consumption and a reflection of the saturation of online information. I like working with eclectic images, and I try to create interesting contrasts and links between them. It is often a mixture of themes – textures related to urban pop culture mixed with elements of nature. It touches on the relationship between technology and the superficiality of our urban life, expressing a certain detachment from reality.
The square formats are a reference to the image formats of Instagram. All this is unpretentious; my work is very intuitive, even naïve. I’m not trying to give any lesson out of my art. I actually like to keep it abstract and leave room for interpretation. The exhibition also had three stainless steel sculptures made of metal that I recuperated from the decor of an old store.
There are a lot of chains in your painting and in your sculptures – what do you like about them? I started painting chains just because I liked the shape and the pattern. It is certainly a strong symbol that can be linked to oppression and confinement of many kinds. My chains are never closed. It’s more just fragments. The symbol of the chain is therefore relevant, reflecting the dependency and attachment to the internet and new technologies.
How long have you been drawing? I started drawing as soon as I could hold a pencil. I do not remember when; I was too small, and I never stopped.
Are you a full-time artist? I used to work from 9 to 5 and then going in for late hours at my studio. It was really demanding. It’s been a year [now] that I focus 100% on my art, and I think it proves fruitful. I’m really grateful for my years at Atelier Gris; they have an amazing team, and it’s where I have learned how to weld.
What is art bringing to the community? Why is it important? I think it’s a great tool to release tension. Things tend to get too serious in life, and people think there is only one way for things [to] work. Art and creation make it possible to find other avenues and open minds. It’s also interesting that the work of a young artist is not generally motivated by the desire of making money, which leaves more room for exploration. I also find that life can be very abstract. We still don’t know the reason for our presence on Earth, and many things remain mysterious. I always keep this thought in mind. I do not always feel the need to explain every element of my works – like life itself, it can remain unexplained.
How concerned are you with the environment, and does it impact your way of working? I often think about it, but I have to admit that I have trouble doing concrete things. It is not always easy to get out of the lifestyle of consumption, since everything works like this around us.
When I make ephemeral installations, I try my best to recycle materials for other projects. I’m planning to get better at this.
You are the son of one of Quebec’s most prolific artists – what motivates you the most about Armand Vaillancourt’s work? As an artist, I think that Armand is an incredible model to have. I am privileged to be so close to him; his energy and determination make me feel good. It is not always easy to be in financial instability and to have no assurance of long-term success. Many people who do not understand this environment may tend to discourage you to pursue an artistic career.
Having someone like my dad around me helps a lot to be courageous and not to be defeated when things are not doing so well. At 89, Armand works and creates even more than many people much younger than him! I would like to have this same desire for life.
You were raised in a beautiful house, full of creativity – would you share one of your favourite memories with us? I have thousands of beautiful memories in this house – old, recent, and others to come! Without mentioning one in particular, I think one of the most fantastic things about this place is that I’ve always been able to build everything that went through my head. This house is full of objects of all kinds collected from the street or collected over the years by my father. Using these objects and materials and turning them into something else really helps me to develop my creativity and ability to solve problems on my own.
“I DO NOT ALWAYS FEEL THE NEED TO EXPLAIN EVERY ELEMENT OF MY WORKS – LIKE LIFE ITSELF, IT CAN REMAIN UNEXPLAINED”
In your opinion, is it easier or more difficult to have a career as an artist nowadays versus in the ‘60s and ‘70s? It’s hard to say since I was not there! I think every era has its singularity. It is true that art is becoming more democratic and has evolved over time. The art forms are different, and many taboos have been broken. I believe there is more latitude in the theme and style you can use, so more freedom.
But at the same time, art democratization can make experimental genres more difficult to support and encourage artists to produce work that are more mainstream for financial reasons, and this could harm the creativity and innovation.
Things are changing a lot with technology and fashion. I think artists of every era face different challenges and constraints. Just with digital art, we can question the relevance of old art forms such as painting on canvas and sculpture of materials such as wood, stone, and metal. I think they are still relevant. Well, at least I hope so (laughs).
Have you already done a project with your dad, Armand Vaillancourt? We’ve often drawn together, obviously, and we participated in some live painting together, but we each did our own works. We are two very independent people, but we encourage each other a lot in our respective projects. I try to make my way as much as possible and create my own opportunities and contacts myself. I do not just want to be “the son of [Armand].”
There is nothing sure yet, and I cannot give too much info, but we have possibly a common project that is coming!
When you finish a piece, who is the first person to whom you present your work? I share a workshop with six incredible artists/friends from different fields! They see the process from beginning to end. It helps not to be isolated and to have the advice and comments of other people.
Which city inspires you? I love Montreal! It’s a big/small city in constant evolution. It gives me the impression that I can really have an impact on what is happening. I also love to travel – Barcelona and Sao Paulo are cities that inspired me a lot with their architecture and street art. Gaudi in Barcelona and Oscar Niemeyer in Sao Paulo are two architects who really fascinate me. Of course, New York and Paris have an important cultural and historical background. I love going there and visiting the museums and galleries, but I’m not sure I would love to live there.
What is your next project? I have many coming up! I’m going to make a sculptural terrace in front of the gallery WIP that will be there during the Mural festival. I have some projects for the Osheaga and Soniq festivals. I already have new paintings in progress and ideas of new works that evolve in my head.
What are the books, movies, or artists that impress you? The Jungle Book, The Lion King, and Dua Lipa! There are a lot of artists that inspire me. Especially with Instagram, I realize there are so many talented artists in this world. I like the fashion designer Richard Quinn: he creates interesting floral patterns and colour mixes. Kanye West seems to reinvent himself perpetually. I think it’s fascinating when megastars keep on exposing themselves and take risks by trying new directions. Frank Stella – I knew of his work, but I discovered some of his sculpture work at the Montreal Museum of Fine Art and was really impressed and excited about his work.