Jon Todd is a Toronto-based artist who works with a unique process of de-stressing, layering and reconstruction to generate vibrant mosaic-like paintings that reflect a fusion of pop culture, social issues and miscommunication. Influenced by a variety of cultures, graphics and street art, Jon has had work shown over Canada and United States. He also teaches Media Studio at OCAD University and plans to open a screen-printing shop in the near future.
When people ask you what you do, what do you say?
I’m an artist. Honestly, it’s the best job. Earlier in my career I would paint subject matter, which was visually pleasing but lack substance. I got bored of painting the same subject matter even though it would sell to the masses. I made the decision to paint works that were aggressive and personal. I’ve reached a level in my career where I am lucky enough to have collectors and galleries who support my freedom to paint and exhibit works I am proud to show. All that to say, I’m an artist who paints what I feel like.
Was there a moment that defined your decision to dedicate yourself fully to art?
Yes, the moment was my first trip to New York City – the year after I graduated from Sheridan’s illustration program. A group of my friends and I took a 10 hour over night bus to attend the American Illustration party. None of us got into the annual book that year but we just decided to crash the party. We had no real place to sleep and ended up sleeping in a 24-hour diner that first night. That trip was a visual overload. It was the first time I experienced the contemporary street art scene (e.g. early works from Shepard Fairy, WK Interact, and Swoon). It was also the first time I visited the Chelsea Galleries. There I saw the inspiring works of one of my favourite painters – Fred Stonehouse. I came home from that trip realizing I didn’t want to be just an illustrator. I wanted to focus on being a contemporary artist.
All of your pieces are unique yet you manage to tie them together flawlessly. How would you describe your style?
My style is an evolution of sorts. All my pieces start out with a model but I never know what the piece is going to look like when I start out – the end is never something expected. I keep layering detailed images on top of each other in order to tell a coded story and integrate hidden imagery. The image evolves over numerous hours spent on detail painting and a lot of happy mistakes. A lot of bright coloured patterns are incorporated into the pieces to contrast the detailed imagery. I sometimes get to the point where I look at the piece and something isn’t right, so I cover it in ink or poor rubbing alcohol on the painting. I love to distress my works and am willing to destroy hours of work with one move if the end result is something special.
You work on a variety of mediums, very often on wood and clayboard. Are these your favourite surfaces to paint on?
Clayboard is my favourite medium I work with a lot of layers, so I need a surface that’s durable and take a beating well. I’ve tried painting on canvas but it’s not for me, I can’t seem to achieve the same effect as I can with wood or clay board.
You’re an instructor at OCAD. Has teaching affected or influenced your art in any way?
Totally. This is my third year teaching Illustration and Media Studio at OCAD. I’m constantly looking for new techniques for in-class demos and making myself think outside of the box to approach concepts differently. Teaching has pushed me to do more studies and experiments with media techniques.
If you make a mistake do you find that you’re able to repeat it?
I’ve figured out some tricks of the trade. I’m always scribbling down notes when I discover a new trick or mistake. They end up on random papers that are around the studio and eventually get taped in a notebook.
I’m lucky to have been in the Toronto art scene for past 10 years. I started off with an artist collective called 1i5 Studios. 1i5 Studio held exhibitions and did collaboration projects with different illustrators and artists. I also teamed up with Dustin Jenner to start a small gallery called Jerome Jenner, which was located in the design store SMASH. I teamed up with Paul Mercer of SMASH and Shea Chang (Artist) to open a screen print studio out of the store basement. Recently I have been lucky enough to teach Illustration and Media Studio at OCADU. There is a lot of opportunity to do art in Toronto you just always need to be networking and trying new things.
Would you change anything about the city’s art community?
More art festivals. Montreal hosted a great festival called “Mural” this past summer and I’d like to see more of that in Toronto. They invited some of the world’s best mural artists to paint wall spaces throughout the city and I think it would be awesome to do a similar thing here in Toronto. There is a lot of talent in Toronto and I think there needs to be more opportunities to showcase this talent.
What do you think are the best venues for showings in the city?
Oh, there are plenty of great venues. Cooper Cole is showing some great contemporary artists such as Tessar Lo, Jen Stark, Geoff McFetridge and Todd James. I am looking forward to the Todd James show in November 2013. Narwhal Projects have a great eye for new contemporary artists and always show strong exhibitions. The MOCCA has done some best shows in the city. The David Hoffo Exhibition “Scenes from the House Dream” at the MOCCA is one of the best shows I have ever seen. His ghostly dioramas installations were extraordinary.
You have a solo show coming up in Toronto, tell us more about that!
I am planning to produce a solo exhibition at the Hermann & Audrey in late Spring. The pieces for the show will revolve around the theme of opposite pairs or doppelgangers. Every piece will be a diptych and portray extreme contrasts. I plan to produce various different sized works, experiment with new distressing techniques and plan to cut up some of the pieces and rearrange them. I will be pushing my style which is scary, but also exciting.
I would like to work on an animated short film to go into a second vintage peep show machine I purchased. This is going to be a challenging and long-term process because I’ve never done animation before, but it’ll be fun. I’m also planning on starting up a screen-printing collaboration with Shea Chang, a friend of mine who’s an artist. She’s got an amazing style and very clean design which is the opposite of my style. We’ve been doing some interesting collaborative drawings that we hope we can turn into limited edition prints..
What do you want to be remembered for?
My paintings. I show myself on the canvas, this is me, these are my flaws. I’ve reached this level of not hiding anything, however horrific or beautiful it may be. In my eyes it’s all beautiful. I want to be remembered for my true self, what I paint and what I’ve created.
Don’t forget to follow Jon Todd’s work on his website and Facebook page!