ART, INTERVIEW

Magic in the Macabre: The Art of Sarah Joncas

0 Comments 23 November 2015

sarah joncas art

Toronto-based New Contemporary artist Sarah Joncas speaks about the evolution of her style, growing up a “geek girl,” and her favorite genres.

By Daniel Barron

 

Toronto-based painter Sarah Joncas was still just a student at the Ontario College of Art and Design before she began attracting the attention of prominent galleries within the US. In the years since, her lush, seductively cinematic narratives have quickly ascended her to the forefront of the modern New Contemporary movement, having showcased in NYC, LA, SF, Rome, and Berlin.

“Though at first look my paintings can seem very illustrative and whimsical, there exists a range of embedded symbols and narratives that I include within each piece. Over a series of four years I have developed my own visual language to communicate ideas that are equally personal as they are collective,” wrote Joncas in an Artist Statement composed in 2007.

These symbols and themes have become Joncas’ signature as she has joined the melodrama of pulp covers, horror and film noir iconography, and spiritual texts to observe questions surrounding the nature of femininity, herself, and human communication in a digital world.

Fresh off of her involvement with Yay! LA‘s Yay Horror Movie A Day project, where she interpreted The Babadook, Joncas spoke about her formative interests, the meaning behind her work, and where she hopes to take her craft next.

 

sarah joncas art

“All’s Fair in Love and War”

 

Did you grow up in a creative environment? What books, films, comics, and art were of special fascination to teenage Sarah?
I didn’t have a creative family, if that’s what you mean. I was the sole art pursuer in my family, but everyone was very supportive nonetheless. I showed signs and talent early on that I’d one day take on something in the arts. In my teens I started delving into a lot of anime and videogames, which inspired my work (though at that age it’s hard to refer to it as “my work”). Anime like Perfect Blue, Akira, Evangelion, etc. I played a lot of Zelda and Final Fantasy. I wouldn’t say I still carry on with those interests as thoroughly as I did back then, but it still lingers as a lasting influence on me, and I find it nostalgic.

 

sarah joncas art

“Transfigure”

 

Oh certainly. Geek culture has changed a lot since I was in high school (2000-2004). My obsession with games and anime was definitely considered outside the norm back then. But I feel like the rise of Comic-Con culture has made them a bit more mainstream. It’s easier to find other people with your niche interests. Was that the case for you did you have something of an outsider experience, yourself?
Yeah, the internet has obviously made the world smaller in that sense. I rarely found people of similar interests in-person and was always a loner growing up. But through the net and online communities you start to realize there are plenty of “geeks” out there. I remember being made fun of in elementary school because I liked Sailor Moon, but most artists I talk to nowadays- at least in my own age group- are also fans.

 

Absolutely, especially since your style tows the line between fine and art and illustration, the latter being a community full of comic book and genre film fans. I’ve read you have a special affection for noir and horror?
I’ve always liked things that are creepy and suspenseful. I wouldn’t say I’m super knowledgeable on old-school noir films, but I love the style and mood, and it’s had a very strong impression on my imagery. And as far as illustrations goes, I used to want to be an illustrator up until I was eighteen or so. Always admired the work I saw in that field, a lot of impressive talent, but the artists also looked like they were having such fun with their work!
As for horror films, I blame my parents for letting me stay up and watch scary movies from the time I was five or six. I used to get terrible nightmares from them. Jaws, The Thing, A Nightmare On Elm Street. But I’d always continue watching them anyway.

 

sarah joncas art

“Secret Heart”

 

sarah joncas art

“Something”

 

What changed at around eighteen in terms of the direction that you wanted to go?
I started selling my own paintings around seventeen. I just started painting the year before and loved it so much. I established quite a portfolio in a short amount of time. I ended up having a community art show and sold most everything I put up. It made me realize that working for myself was a possibility. I ended up going to school for Fine Arts instead of Illustration.

 

What was the tone and intent of those early works? What sort of feedback were you receiving from them?
The work was very innocent-looking, chubby little kids with big, wide eyes and short bodies. I was experimenting a lot at that age too, though. I had oil paintings that would later become what I do now, but the characters were elongated and cartoonish. I also had this grotesque line of paintings that would be made strictly in ink, reminiscent of a Ralph Steadman styling. Those were less well-received by people, but I enjoyed them nonetheless. Most people found the work cute and pleasant to put in their homes, though occasionally I got people poo pooing it.

 

sarah joncas art

An early Joncas work, “Reading Club President”

 

I first experienced your work about two years ago and I have never had an issue identifying it ever since. It’s very conceptual and symbolic, often with strong overtones of the macabre. Did that become a part of your identity before the gallery attention of through the process of it?
I think university changed me for the darker, haha. I look back on those days with nostalgia now, though. I had moved to Toronto in order to attend school, but it was a time where I didn’t have anyone in the city I knew and I would spend a lot of time living solo, painting in a tiny room seventeen floors off the ground. It was lonely, but the city was also a place to mature and I didn’t want to paint things that were overly cute anymore. And the subjects I was learning about at OCAD were more conceptual and influential. 20th century ideas, issues around commodification and advertising. I looked at my world a little differently. I think my paintings now are less about the ideas themselves and more about the individuals’ experience with them, the psychological.

 

I’m sure some people must ask you what a lot of them mean or if you have a certain narrative mind behind them. What do you usually say to them?
People ask me online, but I rarely have people ask me those questions in-person, actually. Depends on the painting. I’ll be as honest as I can, but I try not to ramble too much. It makes me nervous anyhow, artists often prefer visuals to words.

 

I first experienced your work about two years ago and I have never had an issue identifying it ever since. It's very conceptual and symbolic, often with strong overtones of the macabre. Did that become a part of your identity before the gallery attention of through the process of it? I think university changed me for the darker, haha. I look back on those days with nostalgia now, though. I had moved to Toronto in order to attend school, but it was a time where I didn't have anyone in the city I knew and I would spend a lot of time living solo, painting in a tiny room seventeen floors off the ground. It was lonely, but the city was also a place to mature and I didn't want to paint things that were overly cute anymore. And the subjects I was learning about at OCAD were more conceptual and influential. 20th century ideas, issues around commodification and advertising. I looked at my world a little differently. I think my paintings now are less about the ideas themselves and more about the individuals’ experience with them, the psychological. I'm sure some people must ask you what a lot of them mean or if you have a certain narrative mind behind them. What do you usually say to them? People ask me online, but I rarely have people ask me those questions in-person, actually. Depends on the painting. I'll be as honest as I can, but I try not to ramble too much. It makes me nervous anyhow, artists often prefer visuals to words.

“Selfie Fatale”

 

sarah joncas art

“Forbidden Fruit”

 

When there are symbolic elements in your paintings are these reflective of current interests [“Finally, an excuse to pull my expertise in Eastern mythology out of my pocket!”] or is it an excuse to deep dive into stuff you don’t know? If so, what has been your favorite subject to research?
They’re usually references and symbols I look into as I’ve come across an idea I want to express in my work. Or they are something I create that’s influenced by a particular piece of music/film/literature that becomes personal to me (Fish were once a very common symbol for me to paint, and it was inspired simply by the Pink Floyd lyrics from “Wish You Were Here”). In the past, I’ve enjoyed folklore narratives from around the world as inspiration, but particularly biblical imagery and themes are fun for me. I didn’t grow up in a religious environment nor am I religious by any stretch, but it’s just so pervasive worldwide

 

Obviously, you’ve been lucky to find success while you were in school. What has been the most gratifying achievement or experience in your life as an artist so far and what excites you most about the future? I understand you would like to work on a children’s book?
The most satisfying part of being an artist is just being able to get up every day and do what I love! Beyond any achievements or awards, painting is happiness for me, and the only way I feel any purpose in this world. I would really love to make a children’s book one day, yes. As I get older, I find I’m reinvestigating that early period of my work where I enjoyed things that were lighthearted and fun for the sake of being fun. I still love making my more serious work and work most excursively in that style for galleries, but it’s good to do other things too. Be an adult and a kid all at once.

 

sarah joncas art

“Still Water”

 

sarah joncas art

“Schizogony”

 

sarah joncas art

“Savannah Sunset”

 

sarah joncas art

“Nude”

 

sarah joncas art

“Shadowboxer” (self-portrait)

 

sarah joncas art

“Snake in the Grass”

 

sarah joncas art

“Blossom”

 

sarah joncas art

“Anybody”

 

sarah joncas art

“Quelqu’un à Aimer”

 

sarah joncas art

“Inner Universe”

 

sarah joncas art

The Babadook art for Yay! Horror Movie A Day

 

View more art by Sarah Joncas on her website.

Follow Sarah Joncas on Twitter and Instagram.

“Like” Sarah Joncas on Facebook.

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- who has written 423 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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