Jason Botkin's psychedelic murals and grinning plywood masks
"If a gallery was a blank canvas, what would we do?"
Born: Denver, 1974
Lives and works: Montreal
His work: Jason Botkin loves to think big. As one of the founders of the En Masse project, he's put together a vehicle for artists to come together to create massive black-and-white murals across North America and beyond (for more on En Masse, check out this recent installment of The Collective). His own work spans murals, drawings and bright, colourful masks on plywood that bring some of the energy of street art into gallery-sized pieces.
Why wood? Botkin started working on plywood as a space-saving compromise between painting and sculpture, both of which he loves. "It was trying to find the happy medium between doing two dimensional work and an added element of layers and effects," he says. "It started in art school when I was exploring the materials that were around me, and I found a bunch of plywood at one point and started playing with that. I really enjoyed how much abuse it could handle from me, cutting it, shaping it, pounding on it. It's very satisfying."
Massing En Masse: En Masse grew out of the ashes of an unsuccessful attempt to partner street artists with American Apparel. "The project was started by Tim Bernard and myself in 2009," he says. "At the time, we were drawing T-shirts and selling them on street corners. We were basically busking with our artwork. And the question was 'How do we get really good quality T-shirts for cheap?'" Their idea: fly around the world to American Apparel locations, and enlist local artists to make art on the T-shirts in the stores — "and then have a big party at the end with DJs and music and all that good stuff," he says. "That idea was a bust, but then I had been given an exhibition space and free reign at Galerie Pangée [in Montreal], and so we kind of superimposed that idea into gallery space. 'If a gallery was a blank canvas, what would we do?'"
Black and white issues: All of En Masse's murals are done in black and white, Botkin says, because it's the only way to harmoniously combine the work of so many diverse artists. "It's a bit of a homogenizing factor," he says. "There's such wild variables in relationship to how you use colour, and unless you severely limit the palette, it won't work. So this is the most limited you can get, black and white and into your greyscales. The way I use colour is very different from the way the next person might use colour, in terms of vibrancy. If somebody comes next to me and specialized in a pastel flowy kind of thing, it won't work, they'll get overpowered." No kidding: just look at the some of the colours in the gallery above.