We sat down with Toronto-based artist Smolik to get his take on the city and chat about his work. Smolik paints every single day, taking his inspiration from his urban surroundings and reinventing the society that he sees through sketches and brushstrokes. Passionate about raw experience, the artist touches on struggles with identity and urban decay in his creations which range from large murals to the smallest, most detailed illustrations. In constant search of new techniques and means of expression, Smolik has a long list of collaborations with artists and companies such as Red Bull, Salomon Snowboards, Adrian Hayles and Nunca. Read our interview with him below.
Q: How long have you been involved with art-making?
A: I’ve drawn as long as I can remember. I would go see my grandmother to hang out while she worked and I was constantly drawing. It’s always been like that which might be weird because I come from a family of accountants, not artists. My sister and I are the creatives, she’s a photographer and I paint.
Q: The materials you use range from pencil to aerosol, is there a reason behind the variety?
A: I’ve always tried to get out of sticking to one particular style. The art that I like is sometimes the complete opposite of the art that I make, I paint super tiny details and sometimes I just can’t stand waiting. That’s why I work with materials that are fast – who wants to paint for an hour and then wait three for it to dry? I prefer watercolour, ink, aerosol…anything that’s quick.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic?
Schizophrenic at best. There are recurring concepts and ideas of course, but I approach them with different styles because I try to work with everything. I want to paint both detailed realism and large-scale abstract works at the same time. Most of what I create deals with identity and I can also say that my art is quiet, which is hard dealing with now what with the internet. It’s all in your face! Making work that needs time to absorb is a struggle I deal with daily because people just scroll through it and are already on to the next thing.
A: What’s it like being an artist in Toronto?
I think it’s great, you can meet a lot of people and there are a ton of opportunities but at the same time it’s a double-edged sword. There’s a huge group of artists producing amazing work but it we don’t have the collectors to support the art. It’s almost as if art is a luxury with the cost of living here because no-one has the disposable income to purchase art. It’s seen as financing, as an investment. Someone buys a painting because they know the artist and it’ll be worth more in ten years time, there isn’t much trust towards unknown or emerging artists. I’d be painting in an alley and getting yelled at by passerbys who were threatening to call the cops until I told them that I had permission to paint. In that instance their faces just completely changed and they began gushing about and complimenting my work. You struggle in Toronto, land a good show in New York and only with that acceptance do people start accepting you when you get back. Everything in the city needs to be co-signed by something else.
Q: What do you think needs to happen for that to change?
If you can make it in Toronto, you can pretty much make it anywhere. It’s a small minded big city. People need to change their mentality to understand why art and creativity are important and celebrate that.
A: Did you go to school for art?
Briefly, but I stopped. I found it monotonous. I felt like they were exposing us to all these art movements and different avenues we could go down, but not truly teaching us. It’s definitely good to have guidance but it would be nice if they taught you how to promote and sell your art. Coming up with ideas and getting inspired is easy but marketing yourself is the hardest part, especially if you’re antisocial like me. This is the most I’ve talked in like a week.
Q: Does the internet add or subtract to your work?
It’s a little strange. I always get random commissions through tumblr or websites like that. Emails from Germany to design a tattoo or something. It’s weird how the internet makes the world small. At the same time, you have to develop a filter or it becomes overwhelming. Before, artists just put their work out their and you knew very little about their character or personal life. Now with instagram and such you have their art, their dog, their food, their entire life story.
A: Any projects coming up?
Just keep painting and drawing. I’m also working on a second book that compiles my most recent work, which is taking forever. Toronto is a weird city, but it definitely has the talent. Because I can’t convey what I want to in a verbal manner, I paint. It’s my way of expressing myself.