Interview with Sarah Joncas for ‘Upon Another Shore ’ | Exhibition July 8 – July 29, 2023

Thinkspace is pleased to present Sarah JoncasUpon Another Shore.’ In this show, the figurative becomes a vehicle for more existential and constructivist emphases, an armature around which to posit narrative suggestions and symbolic inferences. Highly refined areas of figurative rendering, like the lush skin tones she achieves with oils, are combined with elements of a more graphic sensibility, executed in acrylics, to establish compelling visual tensions between realistic dimensional space and flattened stylization, which nods to her roots in illustration and animation. An early interest in animé and manga, as well as in those neo-noir cinematic references aforementioned, helped to galvanize Joncas’ interest in character-based works.

Our interview with Sarah reveals which color she finds difficult to work with, the challenges of being a mom, how she gets creative with her image references, and that one food dish she’s been craving.

What was your focus and process for this latest body of work? What were you exploring as an artist? 

I’ve been exploring this balance between realistic figures and graphic aesthetics for many years now, but after the mini solo I had with you guys last fall, I felt the need to play more with abstraction and other visual energies. Through my preliminary work building up compositions in photoshop, I began to enjoy my ‘sloppy’ cut and paste styling, the rough edges, and mistakes I’d make while using a computer mouse to draw in colour etc. It spurred me to start selectively including those within the finished pieces. I think both emotionally and visually it’s made for an interesting direction, though I’m uncertain at this time whether I’ll continue with it. Even though my paintings are very controlled, I tend to move through themes and ideas intuitively rather than spending a lot of time planning where I’ll move next.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? 

I had some difficulties with ‘What Comes Back’, not just in creating a figure that looked natural, but deciding how I wanted to complete the work, moving back and forth with finishing touches and ways to balance the composition. I also find reds to be a very difficult colour to paint with (and photograph)! One of my favourites, but the paint itself tends to be less ‘solid’ than others, and more finicky. I end up painting more layers with it to get where I want.

How has your studio practice changed or evolved since becoming a mother? As an artist, how do you prepare for maternity leave? 

When your kids are so young (toddler currently and a baby on the way), you do have to sacrifice far more of your time and energy, some of it unexpectedly when your child is sick, or you don’t have other care options. I’ve had to find ways to balance my work and take time away from it to be where I’m needed. Living in Canada, our mat leave is much longer too, and I was pretty much a year out of work looking after my first (especially during covid when there was no aid). Because I’m self employed, I didn’t have a funded mat leave, but instead tried to bank paintings and work that I could sell while away, also did what I could in order to have a larger show just before my expectant due date. Thankfully, things worked out for me that way, it’s not the kind of thing you have full control over! Despite your plans, pregnancy and babies do their own thing, hah.

How many different pencils/graphite tools do you use for your drawings? Do you have any new favorite materials you’ve added to your art box? 

I only have a case of about 12 pencils I use for my drawings (have had it nearly a decade now), along with a mechanical pencil I love for finer linework. Then I have a few erasers, kneaded and gum, and black gesso for the backgrounds. I use a couple smaller, fineliner pens for any detail work as well. I recently picked up a handful of artist pencil crayons to play around with now that this larger show of work is completed.  See how I might like incorporating washy acrylic backgrounds, with colour penciled drawings and paint. Play around more with mixed media on paper. 

Are you a collector of faces for references and inspiration? Do you work with models to get the right reference shot? 

Most of my references are images that I build up through collage, cut and paste, in photoshop. Stock imagery, models, celebrities and myself or friends, where needed. Sometimes a face can be the eyes from one person and the lips of another, while I’ll take photos of my own hands or clothing (face even) when I want something specific. The lighting in those refs can be also become quite jarring, not all looking to be from the same source, so I’ll incorporate my own interpretation and invention to attempt making it look natural.

You’ve shared that you’ve wanted to incorporate more of your travels into your works. Have any of the pieces in this exhibition been inspired by or used references from your travels? 

Before covid I had begun to do so! Had used some photos I took in Iceland and Japan to help with a handful of works I created, but since covid I haven’t traveled at all. I guess the pregnancies and babies have put a hamper on those things as well for now. In the future, I hope traveling can be something I get to pick up once again!

Can you share with us a piece of artwork or museum exhibition that has significantly impacted you as an artist? Or has left the longest impression?

It’s very hard to choose one image or show that’s impacted me quite so much, but looking back I honestly think seeing my first issue of Juxtapoz as a teen had the most significant change with where I wanted to go in my career. The issue featured Lori Earley’s ‘The Hunter’ on the cover. I had only just started getting into oils and exploring female portraiture myself, and her work just put me in awe. I felt so driven to accomplish that smoothness of skin. Her paintings possessed that deep skill and lushness of an old master, but was modern and edgy and almost digital looking… My own work has changed a lot since that time, but I think seeing her paintings (along with many, many other artists work) in the pages of Juxtapoz influenced me towards a path in fine art rather than my original goal of being an animator.

What piece of unsuspecting advice or words of wisdom has helped you on your artistic journey?

I haven’t had a ton of mentorship in my years growing as an artist, but I think following your heart within your work and learning not to let every piece of criticism stop you from pursuing that has been fruitful to me. As a kid and teen, I could be very influenced by others opinions, trying to be obedient/responsive to where others thought I could or should change, but it’s very important not to lose yourself and what makes you happy, especially with something as personal as art! I’ve learned that’s the place where you’re most likely to excel anyhow, by listening to what drives you.

What is one of your most memorable meals? It could be because of the food you ate or the company you dined with, but it is a meal that has stood the test of time.  

I can’t pinpoint one meal that stands out being better than any other, but lately I have been dreaming about this pasta dish I ate in Florence about 4 years ago… And you know, I’m not that crazy about Italian food (I enjoy it, but it’s far from my favourite). Find a lot of Italian food I eat locally is kind of mediocre/mundane, but this plate I got while traveling Florence was just amazing… Far better than any other meal I ordered while traveling Italy, as well. And it was just some tiny, local spot, no bells or whistles. I don’t even remember the name of the restaurant now, but I regret not having had another day in Florence to dine there a second time, haha.

Exhibition on view July 8 – July 29, 2023 at:
Thinkspace Projects
4207 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Los Angeles, California 90016

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.