Denial Vaccine Black Lives Matter mural

"Sorry Is Not Enough" by Denial

Activist pop artist DENIAL on his Montreal exhibition and anti-racism mural

“She could be crying because we’re finally on the cusp of seeing some real, tangible change for Black people, or she could be crying because it’s still the fucking same after hundreds of years.”

Since mid-August Windsor, ON artist Daniel “DENIAL” Joseph Bombardier has occupied the Station 16 Gallery (their Plateau location) with his latest exhibition, VACCINE, which features a plethora of pieces crafted during his time in lockdown. The self-proclaimed “activist pop artist” incorporates familiar territory in The Simpsons (including a life-sized reimagining of the family’s iconic living room), Looney Tunes, McDonald’s and other prominent brand forces to create poignant work with an urgent message.

We hopped on a call with DENIAL to discuss his exhibition, along with his new mural across the street on St-Laurent Blvd. and what he hopes his art could mean for future generations.

On growing up in Windsor

“One of the best things about Windsor is Detroit (laughs). It’s been tough the last six months, not being able to just freely cross (the border). I feel like I got a very unique perspective because I could literally see it just looking out my windows, and at one point, Detroit was just falling apart. There were fires, people burning it up. 

“There are so many contrasts between Windsor and Detroit. One of my favourite writers and philosophers would be Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian, who made all of these observations on American culture. I feel fortunate to have been able to witness this collapse of a major industrial city in America firsthand.”

On the VACCINE exhibit

“We were originally going to have it in Atlanta and then all of the Black Lives Matter stuff started happening. I had a few conversations with the gallery there. As a white guy, I didn’t feel comfortable doing a show in the home of Civil Rights. I don’t think it’s my voice that the people need to hear right now. I thought it would be much better for the gallery to work with a Black artist from there. Not that I had a shortage of things to say, I just thought that at that particular moment, a show there would be better suited for someone else.

“I spoke to Adam from Station 16 and said, ‘Hey I can’t fully tell you what I’m doing, but here is some of the stuff that I already have and just know that it’s going to be very contextual and experiential.’ He gave me the green light and said, ‘Go for it, man!’ We partnered with him and the Mural Festival. They let me work for a couple of months on the show without fully knowing what it would bring to the gallery! 

DENIAL on VACCINE at Station 16 Gallery in Montreal

“I like to think of myself as activist pop art. How I relate with cartoons and graphics is a lot easier than I do with photo-realistic stuff. I love referencing things that people are so familiar with. With humour and nostalgia, you can open up communication. I’ve done that for years, used elements of humour and familiarity to open a dialogue because then you can slide in some real issues and different things you’re trying to convey in your work. 

“You have a lot more open stream to the person’s consciousness and experience towards how they’re taking your art. If you can get them to laugh at it, remember something or relate to some image. Then, they are going to zoom in and see all of the hidden details that I’ve put in there.”

On the “Sorry Isn’t Enough” mural

Sorry Is Not Enough by DENIAL

“I wanted to paint something with a Black Lives Matter theme. It was very important to me. I did two versions of it, an American and a Canadian one. I originally submitted a design to Mural, it just fell short. I sent them this new [Canadian] one with ‘Sorry is not enough.’ The American version says ‘This is America?’  

“It’s this Black pop art woman crying. She could be crying because she’s happy because we are finally on the cusp of seeing some real change, tangible change for Black people, or she could be crying because it’s still the fucking same after hundreds of years. That’s left for the viewer to interpret. We’ve gotten a bunch of crazy feedback, mostly good. I did the mural for free. We’re selling the paintings but we’re donating the proceeds.”

On what’s next

“I’m focusing a little more on home, my Canadian circle, just reaching out to more localized people, doing a little more around where I live, where my studio is at. 

“I actually started a mural project like seven years ago. At first, it was a little selfish because I wanted these murals around my studio. All the space in the one neighbourhood where I bought my building was just vacant and empty. Me and my friends, we started painting murals for free. That snowballed into a full-on mural project — we’ve done 40-something murals now. Not just us, we have artists from all over the world stop through here. We raise money to pay them, put them up. It’s transformed my neighbourhood completely. You just see the power that public art has. That’s kind of what got me into graffiti initially, the power that you leave behind. 

DENIAL at work

“When you do a mural, you’re meeting these people. If you communicate with them properly, you leave these ambassadors to champion it when you’re gone — really understand the meaning and spread that. That’s super powerful. All little kids need is to see something crazy that they don’t understand and focus on it. It will change their minds in certain ways. It’s beautiful. 

“I am 42. I have the energy to protest, to fight with political art for another 20 years, but kids now have so much energy that it’s for them now to fight. I’ve been fighting since I was a teenager; now, I’m an older guy who can’t go to jail anymore. It would fuck up my whole career and life. Passing the torch to a younger generation, here’s something familiar for you to process as pop art. They are taking the torch. It gives me hope.” ■

VACCINE by Denial continues through Sept. 14. For more details, please visit the Station 16 website.

For more arts coverage, please visit our Arts section.