This weekend’s four-artist block party

Cult MTL chats with Jasper Wong, who will be painting a mural all day tomorrow at the epic YUL block party downtown.

Work by Jasper Wong.

Jasper Wong is an artist and gallery owner; he studied manga in Kyoto and is the founder of the POW WOW art festival; and his cartoon-inspired art is so fresh, it will make you weep. But lately, he’s encountered an unusual enemy. Jasper Wong, meet Montreal tree.

“Of all the things that tree could block, it had to be Bambi’s head,” Wong says as he sits in the LNDMRK offices after a day of mural painting for the group’s latest project, YUL. “It couldn’t be his leg or his tail. No, his head. Because of the tree, I can’t grid it out, so I have to freestyle. That’s the hardest thing to do because he’s so simple — everybody knows what Bambi looks like. So when it’s a little off, they can tell immediately.”

The Hawaii native arrived in Montreal this week to start work on his mural, which puts a funky spin on cartoon heroes like Pikachu, Astroboy, Hello Kitty and, yes, Bambi. Wong’s clean aesthetic and thematic focus on Asian pop culture made him a perfect pick for YUL, a public art project that invites four local and international artists to paint a mural symbolizing one of the cardinal points.

It’s an apt metaphor for LNDMRK, the creative agency that brought the inaugural season of the MURAL public art festival to Montrealers this June. YUL has been on their creative compass for years, and with the opportunity to host the project around a new condo development downtown, they’re finally reaching their destination.

“We had the idea for something like YUL a long time ago, way back when the MURAL festival was just a crazy idea,” says Yan Cordeau, the artistic director and co-founder at LNDMRK. “I’m really happy that we got four artists with totally different styles: Omen with portraiture and aerosol, Ricardo Cavolo with brush and a clean, folk art style and now Jasper. We’ve been following his art for years and it seemed like the perfect fit to have him here for YUL.”

Montrealers will get the chance to celebrate the new artistic arrival LNDMRK-style, with a block party hosted at the YUL spot on René-Lévesque and Lucien l’Allier this Sunday. There’ll be live-painting by Wong, Nixon and Wzrds Gng, skin-painting by Skin Jackin’, musical entertainment by High Klassified, le Roots and Compton Chic and eats by Winneburger and Mr. Crémeux.

Spending hours under the beating sun and painting for the people is nothing new to Wong, who has brought artists and the public together before through his POW WOW arts festival. Sharing the creative process with the public is a mandate embraced by Wong and Cordeau’s team.

“There’s a lot of beauty in the struggles or the periods of bliss where you’re painting to get to the finished product, which is what you’re used to seeing in a museum or a gallery,” says Wong, who uses a unique curved-line graphing technique to lay out his pieces — when the local flora cooperates. “I like to leave those traces and lines where I’ve planned things out because it allows people to see my thought process in the final product. A lot of the times, the process is the most interesting part.”

Wong’s approach to his process, and his use of texture in painting characters that are usually crisp and flat, give his work a unique feel best appreciated in person — Cordeau says some details “just don’t show up in a picture, it’s all about seeing it live.” Of course, that’s the point — and really, with a mural, there’s no choice but to look.

“I think some people feel like there’s a barrier of entry with a gallery — they might not feel like they belong or they’re part of that art culture,” Wong says. “But when you paint on this scale, in public, people are forced to see it. You can’t ignore a mural.” ■

The YUL Block Party happens at the YUL development (René-Lévesque at Lucien l’Allier) on Sunday, July 28, 2–6 p.m., free

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