Jason Botkin 

JASON BOTKIN, BFA, 1997, PAINTING
ALUMNI DISCOVERY INITIATIVE INTERVIEW BY KATARINA WAWRYKOW

He places a penny board beside the couch he goes to sit on. His smile lights up the room in an instant and we are quickly introduced. His honest eyes put you at ease and we laugh and talk about all sorts of things as if this wasn’t the first time we’d met. Jason Botkin graduated from the Alberta of College of Art + Design in 1997 with honours. It’s easy to see why; a drawing major, Botkin’s practice has since expanded into fantastical projects like En Masse, an ever-expanding large-scale black and white collaborative that has brought all corners of the Montreal art scene (and abroad!) together under one directive: “promote learning experience through shared drawing” says Botkin enthusiastically. “That’s the spearhead; inviting people to explore and create together.”

I had been on Jason’s website a few times before we met and I was excited to talk to him about En Masse (enmasse.info). From what I knew, it was turning into an enigma. “It started in 2009 with Tim Barnard. We created this package for American Apparel which was this idea [where we would] bring in a bunch of artists within the community and let them loose on a bunch of blank t-shirts to see what they would create. Then we would have a party and celebrate their unique identity while having a cooperate influence that could be explored,” recalls Jason.

There was the slow burning idea that stuck with Jason. When a space became available for a 3 month period he approached Barnard with a drive to create something amazing. “Within 5 minutes we decided to do something [like we had done at American Apparel]; a salon style collaboration on the walls.” added Botkin. 

They invited artists from very different cliques from all around Montreal. “People came with charcoal, with ink, whatever, it just had to be in black and white. That’s where it started, [we were interested to see] what would happen with all these artists with very different visions.” He said with a smile. Over a month period, with artists taking various shifts, the idea took off. The result was fantastic, a project that celebrated the individuality each artist brought while creating an environment that let them naturally bond together. 

“Each artist you invite, some are really confident [at beginning a piece] and others are better at finishing a work. Inevitably you share techniques, like ‘How did you make that mark?’ ‘What brush were you using?’ and then all of the conversation that follows, ‘How are you making a living?’ ‘Oh it was easy, I’ll put you in touch with this person,” Jason says with a laugh. “It has really affected the community in Montreal.” he says. 

When Jason Botkin isn’t working in black and white, he is doing murals which I tell him I’m seriously impressed with. “Really?” he says. “I’m insecure about them, but my insecurities drive me to do better. I have an ideal picture [in my mind], and I never get it. But the passion to reach for it, it’s marvelous – you’re trying to grab those treasures.” You wonder how he could ever admit to feeling insecure with a portfolio pushing 200 murals to date throughout Canada, the United States and Europe. His murals are organic representations of acid-like dreams and night terrors or somewhere rightly in between. You easily get lost in the detail and strong color palettes in his murals, with a sense of life bursting from the wall. A true story emerges. 

It’s easy to see how his works on walls are inspired by the ideals of street art. “When I was [at ACAD] I was always making large scale drawings. I thought Mexican muralists were the shit. I used to work on awful surfaces, I was interested in how they weren't precious. There were these amazing paintings that just disintegrated. It was long before I saw the relationship to street art and the economic model our world is based on. There was a scarcity about it. I think street art really violates all that, put it on the street and it may only live a few hours. It is all about creative abundance, no one cares. The point is you are giving something to your world.” he says feeling satisfied. 

We only scratched the surface of the projects Jason is working on. Always on the move, he is about to hail a cab to the airport, off to work on another collaboration. Jason is bright and involved. 

Our time discussing art and ideas inspired me to draw more feverishly and live out the grand dreams that tinker in the back of one’s mind. And he did all that in 45 minutes.