Jonathan Bergeron Shines Faint Light
Jonathan Bergeron in his studio
Photo by Tracey Lindeman
The post-apocalyptic world according to Jonathan Bergeron is a crumbling wasteland almost entirely void of human existence — and that’s the good news.
Lueurs, his new solo show at Yves Laroche, translates directly to “a faint light” — a ray of hope, perhaps, “but not necessarily for us,” Bergeron says.
The 12 paintings and six or seven drawings the artist prepared for this exhibition are all steeped in a surrealism inspired by the movement’s master, Salvador Dalí. Bergeron’s canvases show stilts propping up precariously perched land masses and jagged cliffs on which people once lived — but now, house windows are boarded up, snapped telephone wires sway in nothingness and overgrown vegetation swallows up what wasn’t first lost in the presumed reckoning.
“I think I’m a pessimistic person,” Bergeron says.
The larger-than-life flowers in nearly every piece show nature reclaiming the earth, he says; the stilts, that people tried desperately (and seemingly unsuccessfully) to cling to what they had. Lueurs tells a story of our demise — what it would look like if our world broke off.
“My pieces are bright in colours, but the landscape is pretty grim.”
Bergeron’s not a moralist; he isn’t trying to drive home a point about the role people play in destroying the planet. The 39-year-old father of two had a moment of clarity, though, when he and his wife recently brought home their brand-new baby girl.
“Two kids kind of forces you to be more positive. [I ask myself], ‘What am I leaving behind for them?’” Bergeron says. It’s not an existential question, but rather, a practical one. “When they look at my stuff,” he says of his children, “what will they think of what I was trying to show?”
Better known as the revered lowbrow artist Johnny Crap, Bergeron reverted back to his real name a few years ago when he tired of churning out the rat rods, the pin-ups, the nods to horror and sci-fi movies. You may visually know his work by the recurring Calavera Guy, an otherwise nameless cartoonish Day of the Dead-inspired skull who has been making increasingly surrealistic appearances in Bergeron’s work for the past six years.
“I wanted to do something out of the lowbrow movement,” he says, later adding, “I still sit down once in awhile and draw a motorcycle [or whatever]. It’s part of me. But I wanted to do something more meaningful, without the pretention.”
If he’s softening with age and fatherhood, his art surely isn’t suffering as a result. It’s the Saturday afternoon before his show opens, and we stand facing an 11-foot canvas he’s working on within the warm confines of a studio he shares with two other artists. He’s drawn some ominous clouds and the edge of a cliff so far, but by the end of the following day, he’d already doubled the work.
When growing up in Beloeil, his mother encouraged him to pursue art; instead, he tried unsuccessfully to be a cameraman, then worked with his dad in construction for a spell. Then he discovered graffiti, ultimately leading him back to his first, if unknown, love — art.
The past 20 years as an artist in Montreal have served him well, particularly the past 10 or so when he says the city began opening up and subculture artists started having an easier go of things. He still works 80 hours a week, though, and he isn’t getting rich, but he often asks himself, “‘Is it work?’ I’m painting, I’m drawing. If I get up on a Saturday, I’m still in my pajamas, and I can start painting,” Bergeron says. ■
Lueurs opens at Yves Laroche (6355 St-Laurent) Wednesday, Oct. 10 from 6 – 9 p.m. and will remain on display until Oct. 24.