Happy 4/20! Meet the world's first artist-in-residence at a cannabis company

Ezra Soiferman tells us about his year as the inaugural artist-in-residence at Smith Falls, Ont.'s Tweed and the "natural fit between cannabis and the arts."

In conversation with the inaugural artist-in-residence at Smith Falls' Tweed

Ezra Soiferman at Tweed’s Smiths Falls facility. (Bilal Razack)

Last week the federal government announced that it would follow through with one of its earliest mandates by mid-2018: the full legalization of marijuana. Had it been timed differently, this news might have struck Canadians on the 20th of April — otherwise known as 4/20, the global day of weed consumption and celebration. Imagine all those lighting up in solidarity against the 94-year prohibition on marijuana, enraptured to discover their fight had finally been won. That's how Ezra  Soiferman, a Montreal-based documentary filmmaker and photographer who's spent the past year as inaugural artist-in-residence at Tweed — a multibillion-dollar cannabis brand operated out of Smith Falls, Ont. — felt on his 45th birthday last Thursday.

After witnessing the spread of marijuana companies nationwide, Soiferman had an epiphany. He immediately approached Tweed, whose lively image he recognized as a perfect fit for his artistic inclinations, and pitched an artist-in-residence program to its president Mark Zekulin.

"I knew that if Tweed would get behind the idea, more companies — both cannabis-related and non-cannabis-related — would probably open their minds to supporting artists in this way," Soiferman tells us. "I've already heard of another artist pitching themselves to another major Canadian cannabis producer and I'm hopeful there will be more. I believe every industry needs artists in the mix."

Part of Ezra Soiferman's Macrojuana photo series. (Ezra Soiferman)

Ever since producing his first student film at New York University in 1993, which was billed as "a wild romp through the joys and perils of growing up and growing old with medical marijuana," Soiferman has been fascinated by the link between cannabis and creativity. "The cannabis plant is hands down the most versatile plant on the planet. Encompassing everything from medicine to recreational drug to food, fuel, fibre, fabric, paper, paint, plastic, beauty products, building materials and beyond — it's nothing less than nature's own form of art. I mean, you can't even dream up something as incredible as this."

If cannabis never existed, I can tell you with full certainty I never would have been inspired to pitch myself as an artist-in-residence at, say, a tomato factory.- Ezra Soiferman, Tweed artist-in-residence

As the company's in-house artist since last yearSoiferman has been producing what he terms music photeosshort music videos comprised solely of photographs. His first project under Tweed was The Walls of Montreal, a collage showcasing over 1500 murals across the walls and alleys of urban Montreal. His follow-up, Ez in Res', chronicles the filmmaker's journey since assuming the role of Tweed's brand ambassador.

"The biggest thing I'm taking away from my residency with Tweed is how great it feels to have a corporation supporting your work — to travel, to shoot, to share," he say. "Normally, companies tend to be massive, faceless, artless, even soulless entities. From the moment Tweed's President Mark Zekulin replied enthusiastically to my out-of-the-blue, out-of-the-box pitch for them to be the first marijuana company in history to have an artist-in-residence, I've felt so encouraged and empowered to get out there and produce more art. I'm normally a fairly prolific guy, but this has set me into overdrive and upped my game."

Part of Ezra Soiferman's Macrojuana photo series. (Ezra Soiferman)

Still, the individualist in Soiferman didn't want to put out work that felt like it was mass-produced in a factory. He sought a carte-blanche deal with Tweed, which has allowed him to capture anything and everything that interests him — from closeup photo series on cannabis plants to vintage hubcaps in southern California to country music legends in Nashville.

"People keep telling me I have a dream job," says Soiferman. "I have to humbly agree. I'm so privileged to have this opportunity. If cannabis never existed, I can tell you with full certainty I never would have been inspired to pitch myself as an artist-in-residence at, say, a tomato factory. There's just an obvious natural fit between cannabis and the arts."

"But to all those tomato-loving artists out there, don't let me stop you from following your dreams too!"

Watch Soiferman's latest work Ez in Res' chronicling his Tweed residency so far.

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