Tell us about yourself, who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?
Hi, my name is Emmanuel Laflamme. I guess you could say I became an artist by accident. I studied art because my dream was to create a cartoon series.
I grew up in the suburbs of Montreal with my two parents and three younger sisters. I spent most of my childhood playing hockey, building stuff with LEGOs and watching cartoons.
A fortunate encounter with my cousin’s husband, Christian Tremblay (a professional cartoonist, creator of the SWAT KATS) literally changed my life. He became a mentor and encouraged me to teach myself how to draw and paint in the academic style. After a few years of practicing, I started working as an assistant in a studio in Montreal. It didn’t take long for me to realise how challenging it was to create, sell, produce and distribute an original cartoon series… so I started to think of different ways I could express myself using other means.
This is when I really started to make art on my own. I worked with a model for a while, then I experimented with acrylics, pastels, collage, sculpture and digital art. I tried making portraits, still life’s, landscapes and abstract compositions.
My first group show was somewhat of a turning point. I was showing my first paintings, on which I had worked for 20-30 hours each. When I saw that most people spent less than 5 seconds looking at them, I realised I needed to find a more efficient and powerful way to make art. This led me back to my main work tool: Photoshop.
At the time, I was posting a lot on deviantArt. My first trials at digital collage and photo-montage were somewhat successful. The positive reactions encouraged me to go further as I began to realise the power of appropriation in art. Using pictures for their symbolic values, I started creating visual mash-ups that combined references from gaming, pop-culture and art history. As these images became more and more popular, I started to paint, draw, sculpt and print them. I took part in several group shows, which lead me to even more opportunities.
How would you describe your creative style?
Visual mash-ups. Conceptual pop-art. Post-surrealism.
What’s your inspiration?
I’m a very curious person by nature. I often become obsessed with what I don’t understand. I recently dove into the subject of alternate history, conspiracy theories and occult symbolism. That inspired my recent blue series featuring UFOs, occult symbols and paranormal phenomena. As usual, I wanted to approach the subject with an uncanny angle, so I decided to depict the Roswell crash with a Lockheed Martin logo on the wreckage. I copied diagrams of UFO sightings from the 50s, 60s and 70s and added the logo of Lockheed or Boeing, as if they were catalogues of prototypes. In the background, you may also distinguish a pyramid with the all-seeing eye. What if the whole UFO phenomenon was just a bunch of top secret prototypes from the military black projects? What if the whole thing had a bigger purpose? I really enjoy asking unusual questions and more than anything, listening to what other people have to say about them.
What is art to you?
It’s a great tool for change and exchange. It is very cathartic. It allows me to explore the limits of my beliefs and go beyond my preconceived ideas… which can be quite challenging at times. I like to take a subject and spin it around to see if I can show it in a different, more interesting angle. If I can make you react, laugh, or think about something differently, I have reached my goal.
What does your typical day look like?
I currently work full time as a designer on an animated series, so I spend most of my free time working on my own projects, which is usually at night and during the week-end. In between contracts my schedule can be quite hectic as I am a very impulsive and hard-working kind of person. I always seem to be doing 10 projects at once!
How long does it typically take for you to finish a piece?
It depends. It has to feel right and I need to be able to fully assume it. Some pieces have been “in progress” since 2009, and I haven’t given up… they still require the right circumstances to be completed.
How do you keep motivated?
Mostly by keeping in touch with inspiring people. At first, I didn’t have enough space to paint at my apartment, so I started to hang out at a local bar where artists meet weekly to do live painting. This allowed for two things: I got rid of my shyness and I saw live reactions to my work. I also befriended a bunch of local artists, many of which became good friends. Now I have my own studio space which is located in an artsy neighbourhood of Montreal and the whole building is just a big community of ultra talented individuals… a very inspiring environment.
On a more personal level, my main objective is to take full responsibility over all aspects of my life. There’s only one way to make my dreams come true: I have to create the right circumstances. What’s fun is the more I believe in my power to change things and own it, the more people are inclined to help me in my projects. These days, all sorts of opportunities come rushing towards me… I love it!
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I don’t know. I just hope I can make the art I want for the rest of my life.
How have others reacted to your work?
Most people laugh at my work. Which is good, because that’s the intention. Very few get offended, but it happens. Especially when it touches sensitive subjects like religion. What I really enjoy is that even though I work very hard to make clear statements through my work, whenever I talk to people they always seem to have a different point of view which I never envisioned. That makes the whole process even more interesting, because the artwork becomes a trigger for people to express themselves and I feel privileged that some are willing to open up in reaction to my art.
What do you want others to take away from your work?
I would like people to have a good laugh and feel they can start thinking differently about life.
What, if anything, would you tell your younger self?
No matter how hard it gets, never stop. The only way to really develop and to make your voice matter is to have fun and keep working at it.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Always keep a pad and a pencil within reach. Write down and sketch every single idea you have, no matter how stupid or trivial it may seem. You never know what it could become. It also makes a nice record of your creative journey.
Any words of wisdom to aspiring artists who want to pursue a similar career?
Try to find as much satisfaction as possible in the creative process, because the rest is secondary. If you truly and genuinely enjoy creating the way you do, there’s no doubt other people will start paying attention, but it always starts with you.
What are your thoughts on art school?
It’s a path. It’s not the one I’ve chosen, but it’s one way to develop as an artist.
Have any future aspirations that you’d like to share?
There are so many. I can’t wait to have more resources to start working on my bigger projects.
What’s your dream project?
Again, there are so many… and I don’t want to spoil anything or jinx myself.
What art supplies do you use?
Anything that’s appropriate. I paint a lot because it’s cheap and easier to sell than big installations. Screen prints are also good commercially, but I would use anything. I like to explore with the uncanny or more common stuff. Sometimes I go shopping at the dollar store or Home Depot to get inspired. Sometimes a found object inspires me a whole new series. I have also begun using old toys and games.
What’s your process like?
It’s quite chaotic. At any time, I have between 5 to 20 different projects going on inside my head. Some are just paintings or prints, while some are more elaborate installations or series of works. I try to “empty” my head every day by writing down and sketching.
How could the art industry become better in your opinion?
By becoming more accessible. I hope that one day visual art will have as much impact and visibility as music or cinema in the media. It’s changing, but it takes time. It’s important people realise that for the same price as an IKEA print they could get an original artwork by an emerging artist, help build a career and invest in culture at the same time.