POP Montreal Interview: Poster Boy Jack Dylan


I first met visual artist Jack Dylan at POP Montreal a few years ago. He was living with Graham van Pelt, the guitarist for Think About Life and the front man for a band-you-should-love-by-now, Miracle Fortress. At the time, they were both based in Friendship Cove, a massive, bi-level loft space that doubled as a weekend show venue. (They’d previously been evicted from a similar space dubbed The Electric Tractor.) Dylan has been handling poster duties for POP Montreal for the past four years, combining images plucked from superhero comics with portraits of Mile End’s hipster royalty. (He’s also responsible for some truly epic oil paintings, including one that showed a bereaved Al Gore cradling a dying panda bear.) I spoke with the artist about the newest round of posters for this years POP, which include inspirations from Edward Hopper, Woody Allen, and local Montreal make-out spots. — Scott Indrisek

How did you first start doing the posters for POP?

It was four years ago. I had been doing some posters–at the time our venue space, The Electric Tractor, had just been shut down. We hosted some good shows there: Japanther, An Albatross, The Gossip, AIDS Wolf. POP rolled around. I did five posters then, all of different artists who were playing the shows battling super heroes. Very standard, the way when Wolverine meets Spiderman, and there’s a misunderstanding, so they fight, but then they become friends. It was kind of based on that premise, that genre of comics.

When did you start working with the superhero theme?

Right then. That was the first time. I consider it playing the old standards, when an illustrator does a superhero. Each illustrator will typically tackle a superhero one time for something, and they’ll do it in their own way. Chris Ware draws superheros, Adrian Tomine draws superheroes, all the contemporary underground comic book artists who aren’t Marvel guys still do it. Like a jazz standard.

Do you consider the poster work a calling card for your fine art career?

Originally it was that. But then, as can happen to painters, illustration can take precedence. Postering was a gateway into professional illustration. Now I do a lot of work for magazines, fashion illustration. And I’m doing less posters. It’s probably going to go that way as I get older; I can’t afford to work for like $25 a day or it becomes more and more intolerable. I’d say the practice was the most important thing I got out of it. Also, there’s no better audience than having your stuff right out on the poles.

Do people take your work less seriously and say, well, you’re a poster artist, not a fine artist?

There’s still some skepticism. I think that’s probably fading as they realize–anytime the artist ‘arrives’–in that their name is already known–that’s an advantage. Nothing to sneeze at. Some posters are really shitty and they just carry a message and they’re what you would expect. Some go above and beyond and really take it to that art form. They discovered there was a huge market for those vintage posters; things that used to be advertisements fifty years ago for Coke, [they’re] now revered like fine art. The Moulin Rouge posters, vintage posters for wine.

After communities and scenes and decades fade away, the poster remains as the chronicle of that time–there’s articles and recordings, but the poster art is left as the really major visual touchstone for what people will think of when they look back at that time. It’s nice in that way.

Do you have any ambitions to work on a graphic novel? Has there been a Montreal graphic novel that tells the story of the past couple of years?

I don’t think there has. I do feel kind of pressure to fill that void. I’m hopefully going to be working on a comic book that’ll be set in Montreal next year. This being Quebec, I’ve applied for a nice grant for that. Unfortunately that’s probably the only way I could really do it at this point–it is a really time consuming process. [It’ll] probably take me three months to make something that’s twenty-four pages that you would consume in ten minutes or less.

Let’s talk about specific show posters from this year…

I try to stick with the superhero theme, and the theme of Montreal as a template overall, and I try to make them look like comic book covers. Within that I try to make it as original as I can. I found an extra concept this year: reinterpreting classic, iconic images that would tie into the different events of the festival. For Film Pop, I did a famous scene from Annie Hall–except I made them super hero hipsters and I set them in Montreal, atop of a popular theater that a lot of people like to sneak up on and make out on top of. It’s called the Rialto. You can get up the fire escape and just have a beautiful night with that special girl after the show. [Laughs].

One of them is a reinterpretation of the Edward Hopper painting, “Nighthawks at the Diner.” I used a really popular greasy spoon called Nouveau Palais, the place to drag yourself to at 4 a.m. for that extra plate of greasy fries or something–definitely an after-show ritual a lot of people would relate to. I put in some local artists: members of Plants and Animals, other visual artists.

The last one I’ll mention is based on a photo of John Kennedy from the ‘Ask Not’ speech; I used that for the POP Symposium. That one has the creative director Hillary, in the Kennedy role, and another creative director as Jackie O…and then a crowd of about 400 hipsters–a lot of real ones, some fake ones, like Batman. I tried to include the Montreal heavy hitters; Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade, [plus] a lot of the new ones. Some of the guests from the festival: Nick Cave, Irma Thomas.

What about local acts or bands you’re excited to see this year?

I think Caroline Keating is really gonna get some fans as soon as she gets out of Montreal and Quebec. She’s super young, she hasn’t had the chance to leave the nest. She plays piano and sings–kind of a little bit of that Joanna Newsom power. Then there’s D’Ubervilles from Toronto. Mothers Fathers are cool.

What about the political posters you’ve made?

Were in the middle of a Canadian election, as I’m sure a lot of Americans don’t know. A lot of Canadians don’t even know, because we don’t care–everyone’s fixated on Obama and McCain up here. We have this real liberal leader candidate this time. He’s the one who’s supposed to overthrow the conservative government if he can. His name is Stéphane Dion. He looks like an accountant who’s about to microwave a TV dinner. He has no visual charisma, or charisma at all. He’s the exact opposite of a Barack Obama. The case is kind of hopeless unfortunately–a lot of the blame is put on him. I feel sorry for him. I feel like people just say that because he happens to be a small guy who wears glasses. I redid an image of him in the same exact style as Shephard Fairey’s Obama poster.

In Canada we have now five political candidates, only one of them being conservative–which means even though we’re all liberals we wind up electing a conservative because the left vote is totally split. Good system, eh?

People aren’t excited about any of these candidates?

That is the complaint. People have definitely lost enthusiasm. Our government keeps on collapsing now. A lot of people don’t have the patience for it. I love it though, I love following it. I think our Canadian politics can be just as exciting–especially when you have the Marijuana Party in Canada, and other major parties pick up their former members and run them as major party candidates. Quebec marijuana is really on the grow, as an industry.

How would you say Montreal has changed? Is it a better city than five years ago?

The gentrification is very real, rents have gone up, a lot of people have moved here. It’s become a little more Anglo. A lot of people moved here to kind of make it in an artistic gold rush, five years ago, and a lot of those guys are signed now, working full-time as artists, promoters, managers. I think the Montreal story is a pretty positive one. We haven’t ruined it yet. The condos haven’t driven out all the artists yet–maybe in another five years, [but] for now it’s still a beautiful city. Good things are still growing here.

Someone was talking last night about a neighborhood behind Mile End, called Parc Extension?

Parc Ex. Basically, Mile End would be akin to your Williamsburg. Parc Ex would be Crown Heights. So basically it’s a much less nice neighborhood that’ll be the next frontier, farther and farther away from the actual downtown. Unfortunately the nice architecture runs out after Van Horn. When the artist community has to cross the other side of the tracks–literally–it’s not gonna be nearly as beautiful of a neighborhood. A lot of the buildings are from the ’70s…Whereas the classic joke of a Montreal apartment is something that has high ceilings, bay windows, crown molding, marble fireplace, hardwood floors, for $300 a person. Now that rents are going up, that’s going to be harder for the average hipster to get. [They’re] gonna have to start living in some uglier places.

To see more from Jack Dylan visit his website.