Jon Todd packs a lot into a portrait, and leaves space for the viewer to get in and explore it. Using the traditionally figurative portrait style, he expands on it and wastes no space, painting in new stories and characters within, and surrounding, the subject. We got a chance to ask Jon a few questions regarding his new show Flanked by Ghosts at Matthew Namour Gallery
Eben Benson: So give us a rundown on what kind of work you've been doing lately. Your work seems to capture a certain kind of chaos.
Jon Todd: I have been doing a lot of experimentation with mixed media techniques and pushing my style in different directions with this latest painting series titled Flanked by Ghosts for the Matthew Namour Gallery in Montreal.
These new pieces are all about finding a balance between beauty and chaos – the abstract backgrounds, the layering of images, and detailed characters and patterns. The end result is a portrait that lets the viewer uncover the hidden characters, symbols and stories.
Have you always focused more on portraits? What interests you about drawing faces?
My work has always focused on portraits, however my previous bodies of work contained more rendered and polished portraits with some elements of distortion. My newer work focuses more on distortion, abstract expressionism and adding in more extreme contrasts, for example detailed patterns offset with blocks of bold color. So portraits still are the main focus of my work but I am taking more risks and experimenting in terms of the execution of these characters.
The faces are the starting point for the story of the piece. The faces, together with the detailed imagery and the expressionist background help to convey the emotion of the piece and the story behind the character.
Your color palette seems to be very dark, although you use some very intense and vibrant colors as well. Did you ever paint particularly bright things or has your work always carried this kind of darker accent?
My work is typically an even mix of darker pieces and brighter pieces. This mix speaks to what’s going on in my life and in my head as I paint.
What kind of town are you from? How did you get into making art when you were younger?
I was raised in town called Whitby, which is basically a suburb of Toronto. As a kid I collected comics, painted woodcarvings with my dad, and spent a lot of time drawing dinosaurs and 80’s pro wrestlers. In high school I was still very much into making art, so when I wasn’t playing basketball you could find me in the art studio. Having a supportive family made it easy to pursue education and a career in the arts.
Explain your love of baseball and the Blue Jays, is there a lot of Toronto pride based around the Blue Jays?
I have been a big Blue Jays fan since I was a kid. I love going to games with friends and family and love listening to the games on the radio while painting in the studio.
There is definitely a great atmosphere in the city during the Blue Jays season, its pretty awesome to see people from all over the country rally around a great team.
What are some challenges and benefits to being based in Toronto?
Toronto is very multi-cultural and has a great art scene and community – there are a lot of great art galleries and museums. Toronto is home to many acclaimed artists, there are many new and upcoming artists, and there are lots of opportunities for collaboration and installation projects. Overall, it is a very inspiring city to live in as an artist.
The biggest challenge is probably the cost of living. As an artist it is difficult to find an affordable studio space. I know a number of creative types that have re-located because of this.
Tell us a bit about the theme behind your new show at Matthew Namour Gallery
In Flanked by Ghosts each painting has a main character that is surrounded by ghosts – some ghosts offer protection and loyalty, while others provoke fear and frustration. For example, Purple Woman is cradled and protected by the hands of a ghost whereas ghosts engulf Shadow Chaser creating a sense of panic and fear.
What are some goals you have for the next few years?
I would like to continue exhibiting in North America and Internationally, as well as continue to develop and experiment with my mixed media techniques and color palettes.
I’d also like to try some new things like stop motion animation, and large format pieces.