The patient’s guts needed more red paint, and Phil Lanimal slathered it on. He stood in the Agora gallery of the Cégep du Vieux Montreal finishing his installation piece for the MTL ZOO exhibit. As he worked on the twisted organs and wooden body of his Frankenstein, he shared the secret behind the piece’s crowning jewel: a taxidermied deer’s head.
“I found this in the street, and I knew I had to do something with it,” said Lanimal, motioning to the head, its eerily calm gaze framed by dripping wax tears.
At MTL ZOO, Montrealers are in store for a three-ring circus of painting, illustration and installation art from nearly 20 of the city’s most talented and underexposed artists.
In a city where big-name talents like Jason Botkin, Peter Ferguson and Jonathan Bergeron inspire young artists, organizers Olivier Bonnard and Fonki are out to give the next generation a legacy of its own.
“For this exhibit, we’re trying to work with artists who are less well-known, who are talented, but who don’t really do big exhibitions,” Bonnard said.
“Most of these artists are less than 26 years old. There’s tons of talent here, and this is our initiative to spread that,” he said.
MTL ZOO isn’t a one-shot deal. This first exhibit is set to plant the seed for ongoing collaborations between young artists on a large and small scale.
“We plan on putting the MTL ZOO exhibit on every year, and we’re also working on getting the artists to meet, look at each other’s work and form teams for capsule exhibitions and projects,” Bonnard said.
Bringing together the city’s young artists isn’t MTL ZOO’s only mandate. Bonnard and his partners are set to let the genres out of their cages, encouraging aesthetic exchanges among writers, painters, illustrators and sculptors.
“It’s a project about sharing styles. We’re trying to mix everything together because, often enough, the graffiti people aren’t really working with the people in illustration, let’s say, and vice-versa,” Bonnard said. “We’re trying to bring everyone together and have influences spread across the board.”
Walking through the gallery as artists hammer pieces into the walls, set up their work or just stand around and talk shop, it’s clear that MTL ZOO is creating something new in Montreal’s art world: a big, bad bastard child of styles with no set rules and no limitations.
On one wall, a fine-line illustration of a prim woman holding up a can of spray paint by illustrator and painter Miss Teri hangs opposite a series of paintings of ghosts with ominous grey faces by artist IMP. In another corner of the gallery, clippings from newspapers and comics have been glued onto a large wooden canvas, then painted over in a graphic, surreal style by Macs Mos.
The eclectic mix of styles and talents might not come as a surprise to those familiar with Bonnard’s own painting and illustration work, which he said is influenced by pop-Surrealism and low-brow art.
And when the curators are artists, there’s always a story behind the finds, including half of a dilapidated red Toyota Echo.
“I was painting at Fresh Paint Gallery downtown, and I saw this group working on the other side of the wall. I really liked what I saw, so I invited them to join our exhibit, and Garbage Beauty brought that in,” Bonnard said, glancing across the floor to the automobile’s shell, which sat with sawdust and seats spilling out its torn-up front, awaiting further artistic manipulation before the exhibit’s vernissage.
Montreal is full of art galleries and pop-up exhibits, but touring the MTL ZOO exhibit in its final set-up stages reveals something a little rarer in the city: real energy.
“It’s too bad you can’t see this and take pictures of it,” Bonnard said, holding up a wood carving of a cartoon-style dog head complete with hundreds of miniature hairs.
Working, painting and staying enthusiastic until the last minute, MTL ZOO’s artists are setting their own pace for their newfound stomping grounds. It’s a fast, eclectic, varied beat, and it’s only going to get wilder. ■
MTL ZOO is on at Galerie Agora (255 Ontario) Oct. 23 – Nov. 1. The vernissage takes place Oct. 23, 6–9 p.m., free