Interview with Sarah Joncas for ‘Pretty, Broken Flower’

Thinkspace is pleased to present new work from Toronto-based artist Sarah Joncas for her exhibition ‘Pretty, Broken Flower.’ Sarah Joncas first exhibited with the gallery at 19 years old gallery in 2009. Since then, her accomplished work has developed technically and conceptually, garnering international attention for its moody stylization and emotive impact. 

Her portrait-based paintings focus primarily on female subjects that function as alter egos or symbolic avatars for social, psychological, and personal themes.

In anticipation of ‘Pretty, Broken Flower,’ our interview with Sarah Joncas discusses following her intuition, her playful approach to painting mediums, and being pregnant during a pandemic.

For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background? 

I’m a Canadian artist, born in 1986 and currently residing in Mississauga, Ontario – a suburb just outside the city of Toronto. Have known since a very young age that this was what I wanted to do with my life and I’m very grateful each day I get the chance to wake up and continue doing so! As far as education, I attended and graduated with a BFA from OCAD in Toronto in 2010.  

What is the inspiration behind ‘Pretty, Broken Flower.’ 

I didn’t approach this show with an over-arching theme in mind, but instead took the work piece by piece letting inspiration and each image flow more naturally. I’ve found over the years my paintings tend to turn out better when I let things happen more intuitively, maybe because I’m not forcing a vision. However, much of the inspiration behind the paintings from this show comes from expressing emotion and feeling out individual conflict, letting surreal motifs enhance each portrait by accenting those concerns. The title for the show comes from a work included, something vague enough to envelop all the pieces, but also hinting towards that internal struggle I’m suggesting in them.  

What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

My favourite part is when I get about 2-3 layers into the oils and start bringing a lot of the image to life.  Usually by that point I’ve corrected any ‘issues’ I find proportionally with the figure and am just focusing on livening up the face, better rendering the form, getting into details.. It’s a lot of pleasure seeing the image you had in your head slowly approach reality. 

How has your process changed over the years? 

When I first started painting in my teens, I worked almost exclusively in acrylics and didn’t get much into oils till I started university. I found my work changed quite dramatically with the eventual shift towards oil, maybe because I was also getting lessons in traditional life and portrait drawing at the time. What was very illustrative and cartoon-based imagery at first, changed towards more realism and full rendering. However, I did come to miss how acrylics made me more experimental and playful within my work. With time I started to incorporate aspects of both those techniques in my painting. I love bringing my portraits to life and getting better each year with that realism, but letting acrylic backgrounds and motifs complement and contrast the figures created more intrigue and also just made it more enjoyable for me to create. 

How did this exhibition challenge you and your skills as an artist? 

Though I didn’t stray far from my normal with this show, I did try to explore my palette a bit more with some pieces using more yellows and ochres, a range I often ignored in the past. I also included a work in the exhibit that incorporates two figures rather than one, which is something I haven’t approached in years. Otherwise working through a global pandemic while pregnant, dealing with supply shortages, it was a good enough challenge on its own for me this time around, haha.  

What is the emotional landscape you explore within this latest body of work? 

My paintings from this show explore feelings of heartbreak and grief, personal growth and spiritualism, overcoming struggle, sexuality and identity… I can see where some of the paintings indulge a bit in the heroine’s melancholy, but also where others embrace a feeling of renewal and conquest. I like how a big show like this gives me the opportunity to play in those ranges and kind of gives my girls a place to evolve full circle. 

Who are some of your creative influences, and what about the influence inspires you? 

Many of my greatest influences growing up were other artists in the ‘pop surrealism’ field I admired from reading Juxtapoz magazine as a teen – artists like Joe Sorren, Jonathan Viner, Lori Earley, Tara Mcpherson, Mark Ryden and many, many more. When I got first introduced to these artists it was right around the time I picked up a brush myself and the range of work was both serious and playful, which really appealed to my illustrative and fine art ambitions at the time. If I got into all my big influences though, it’d be quite a thing to write – I think music, film and books have been just as impactful as much of the painters I love! 

We are in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s an unprecedented time, and it’s a weird time – What is your approach to life during this time? 

Life has been quite different for me this year, not just because of the pandemic, but because my husband and I got pregnant with our first child only a month before the pandemic hit. Certainly not the kind of thing you predict when you’re thinking about starting a family, but after short a while coming to terms with our new normal, I’ve approached life with the same happiness and perspective I usually try to maintain! You have to remind yourself not to over stress on that which you can’t control. Despite the challenge and impact something like this inevitably has though, I feel Canada has handled things fairly well and taken care of our people as best a country could be expected. I’ll just have to keep taking life as it comes! Hope for the best and do what I can to keep safe and healthy. And I wish the same for everyone else. 

What is your favorite local spot to pick up some take out? 

There’s a little Japanese joint, Tomo Sushi, that I live near and surprisingly it’s my husbands’ and my favorite sushi restaurant in the entire city – and we’ve tried many over the years! Delicious quality, fresh and healthier than other options. Normally we eat in, but it’s been strictly take out since the pandemic started. We order from them at least once a month now. 

If your work inspired a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream flavor, what would be the ingredients and the name of the pint? 

I had to google Ben and Jerry flavors to know how they name their ice cream, but I see they’re usually clever play on word types! I guess I would go with ‘Sassafras-berry’ – an ice cream that has a feminine (sweet) and playful (tart) quality, but also a bit of sass (salty) to complement the sweet, maybe some moodiness and darker tones (rich/bitter). I’d give it a vanilla base with lots of strawberries and cherries, chunks of salted dark chocolate, and some peanuts or walnuts mixed in… I think I just conveniently described how I like my ice cream exactly, haha.   

Join us LIVE on Instagram, Saturday, August 22nd from 1 to 2 pm PST while we tour ‘Pretty, Broken Flower‘ along with new work from Anthony Clarkson and Sergio Garcia.

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