A Week of Canadian Painting: Simone Blain

Because we are a Canadian-run publication and we admire those who continue to work with the arguably dated medium of paint, in the arguably dismal landscape of the Canadian art-world, we have decided to do a week-long feature on some of our favorite current Canadian painters, in no particular order. Stay tuned this week to see who we believe to be among the greatest established and emerging painters the Great White North has to offer!

flowers, 2015. oil on canvas, 18x24_

Simone Blain is a Montreal-based artist who paints playful swirly scenes with clear references to Picasso and Matisse, two painters who a lot of people consider to be among the greatest of all-time. Seemingly alternating between scribbly-silly-smiley people and aggressive abstracted bodies (some physically fighting), Blain depicts the extremes of a charmingly naive emotional spectrum. In addition to (sometimes in conjunction with) her expressionistic figures, Blain paints busy, warbly patterns, incorporating techniques and materials that yield alluring textures and colours. Love-drunk and swirly or brawling in black paint, there is a simple, beautiful spirit to everything Blain paints. – Olivia Whittick 

Where did you grow up? What was the landscape like?
I like to think I grew up in the woods, (even though I was only there until the age of eight) near a shitty little small town called Shawville. My closest neighbours were a kilometre or so away, and I had a big overgrown field to play in and forests to explore and whatnot. Across the road was a lake we called Buzzy’s lake and it was jam packed with leeches. Every time we swam we came out covered in them. We lived in a run down old farmhouse full of vermin, but I was convinced it was a “mansion” cause it seemed big, so that’s what I told all the kids when I moved to Montreal in 1998. It’s probably the only reason I had any friends. I’d love to move out of the city at some point, I really miss the fresh air and it would be cool to have a garden.

Do you think being Canadian has had any impact on your work?
Definitely. Although Canada isn’t actually as peaceful as it makes itself out to be, and is pretty rampant with systemic racism, etc,  it has basic resources that a lot of other countries don’t have access to and this allows me to live and make work in a relatively safe and affordable way. It’s also dense with amazing creative people who I find super inspiring.  I don’t know much of the rest of Canada, I’ve never been out west, but the island of Montreal is very particular, culturally speaking.

reclined-web_710 netface2_886 Shy Guy, 2015, oil on canvas. 26x32inches

What is your favourite medium to work with?
I work with oil, which is weird because a lot of my stuff is really linear and drawing based, and it would be a lot more practical for me to use acrylic, since these days Im doing a lot of layering and masking. I haven’t crossed over because I love the sensuality of oil, and I feel like it is more versatile. I’ve also been really into wax medium lately because you can play with texture and it looks like velvet to me. I kinda enjoy the difficulty of imposing obstacles on yourself as you work because sometimes you can come out with something really fresh.

What themes do you work with, if any?
I like the idea of taking a diaristic approach, like making a painting about my crappy roommate or whatever banal thing happened to me this week, but I’m also always concerned that I might come off flippant or insincere. I think my approach to painting (thematically speaking) is this constant search for balance.

Are you inspired by any Canadian painters?
For sure! I’m really into a few of the RBC painting competition finalists this year, Hanna Hur, Russell Leng and Tristan Unrau.  My friends, Adam Bergeron, Sacha Lightbound and Raúl Aguilar Canela (not born here but currently lives here), Selina Doroshenko, Nicole Levaque, Enora Sanschagrin, Ingrid Tremblay, Aidan Pontarini, David Bellemare, Les Ramsay. I’m probably forgetting so many! Anthony Burnham, Mark Delong, Sojouner Truth Parsons, Rebecca Brewer, Luc Paradis, Jay Isaac, Matthew Feyld, Sascha Braunig, Philip Guston, Harold Klunder, Thom Thomson, Jock MacDonald, David Milne, Clifford Maracle, Kenojuak Ashevak, Shuvinai Ashoona, Annie Pootoogook and my teachers, Adrian Norvid, David Elliot, Sylvain Bouthillette, Eliza Griffiths, Joe Di Leo, Andres Manniste. Also John Elio Reitman, Max Evans, Simon Zaborski, Dan Vogt, Rory Dean, Bea Parsons, Jérôme Nadeau.

Is there any one painter who has influenced your work more than others?
It’s really hard to think of a single influence, but I think I’ve grown a lot by sharing a studio with my friend Matthieu Bouchard for the last few years. We copy each other a lot and the dynamic constantly pushes me and helps my work get better. He’s one of the best painters I know.

Are you drawn to any particular historical art movement?
My interest is pretty broad, but right now I’m really into outsider stuff and casual, direct painting styles. I definitely look to art history, but Im also amazed by what young people are doing today. The first thing I do every morning is check my instagram and gush over all the new paintings of the day. I love having access to all of it, and I think its really neat to have it come across in such an informal way, being able to see works in process.

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Do you consider your work to be political?
I don’t really believe art (especially painting) is really the best place for politics because i feel it’s too passive a medium for any sort of activism. Im definitely conflicted about this, though, and I try to insert some of my feelings about feminism into my work. So i guess there is an underlying political aspect, but it’s not super charged. SO I guess art can be political, but I think it lacks the ability to really fundamentally change anything about the world.

What do you think is missing from the Canadian art scene?
More free wine and snacks at openings ~~~ what happened to that anyway??? But actually I think the scene lacks diversity; I find it pretty conservative. I have a lot of friends who are making stuff that is infinitely more exciting than what a lot of galleries in Montreal are showing. I often feel disappointed and i think curators should take more risks. I feel the ultra conceptual approach has become dull and perfunctory, and it annoys me that painters have a harder time getting grants and shows than new media art artists. Im so bored with art about technology and the internet that looks lazy and cold. I guess the only way to deal with it is to organize small-scale stuff independent of the bigger galleries, which I’ve seen a lot of my peers do very successfully.