Visiting Jono Doiron’s at-home studio is like stepping into a fantasy world. His mischievous cartoon paintings freckle the walls, forcing you into an animated reality everywhere you look. Trained as an animator, Doiron moved to Montreal from Halifax three years ago and has been making his mark as both an artist and curator in this city’s vibrant art scene ever since.
Doiron studied traditional animation in New Brunswick before returning to Halifax for about five years. He worked in animation for several years, but ended a contract in 2009 and decided to pursue his own art practice. “I was getting a scene together [in Halifax],” he told us. “I found some other like-minded artists and we would throw shows in the back of bars or restaurants, that kind of thing.” However, his personal aesthetic did not particularly fit in in Halifax, where much of the painting remained very traditional. Jono decided he needed to make a move. “The art scene [in Montreal] is among the best in Canada, or at least, there’s a lot of inspiration here,” he said. “I moved here, and I’ve just met so many more artists in the last two and a half years than any other period of my life that I’ve been really inspired by.”
“So far, it’s been good,” Jono added. “I’ve been following through on what I came here to do, which is make great art and get it seen.” He’s also curated a few shows, including Last Years’ Fears at Galerie Abyss, which was featured in our Must-Sees.Jono describes his painting as narrative cartoon imagery that fits into the low-brow and pop surrealist movements. “Not everything I do has a humourous intent,” he explained. “I want cartoons to be more than what people already consider they can be. There’s this whole prejudice about cartoons being just for kids, but cartoons have never been made by kids, so why would they just be for kids? That doesn’t make any sense.” He insists that art should start a conversation and make people think, which his images of classic cartoon characters in questionable situations certainly achieve.
“I want to make art that people see and are like, “I saw this painting by Jono and I can’t get it out of my head.” I want to make art that has a presence in somebody’s subconscious.”
Although Jono’s works may appear to simply place these well-known characters into comical situations, each piece he creates has a deeper meaning. “The function of art is to make people think and entertain people as well, and the best art does that simultaneously. I want to do both. My art has kind of a surface interest, where you can just look at it and be like, ‘Oh man, that’s really cool.’ But, if you want to dig deeper, you can pull something else from it.”
His painting that shows Wendy the Witch tattooing Casper the Friendly Ghost, ‘The Boastful Ghost,’ was produced with the help of his Facebook friends. “I knew I wanted to give her a sleeve, and it was all going to be famous cartoon characters,” he said. “Because I’m a guy, what I was influenced by growing up would have been different. Women would have been drawn to other things. I wanted it to be authentic, so I thought, why don’t I just ask them?” He posted a status on his page asking for his female friends’ favourite childhood characters, and picked the most popular answers to fill Wendy’s sleeve. “It feels sort of right, somehow. It also gave them a helping hand in creating the work.”
“THAT LAUGH,” a more recent piece that pictures Porky Pig tormented by the laughter of Screwy Squirrel, Woody Woodpecker and Daffy Duck reveals Jono’s intense attention to detail. Not only did he ensure that the characters’ mouths look like they were actually making the laughing noises, he listened to old dialogue from the cartoons themselves to write down the text phonemically. “It’s not only important for me to just have them laughing, but I wanted to write it in the same way that you actually hear it. With Woody, there’s an emphasis on the fourth ‘ha.’”
Jono also customizes a frame for each painting. For him, the frame is part of the painting. It started with his painting of Eeyore, the frame for which is covered in graffiti-like text. “The purpose of the graffiti is that it’s kind of Eeyore’s subconscious, and how our inner thoughts are sometimes so loud that people seek substances to quiet them. This frame only works because it’s so complicated.” This addition to each painting makes them whole, adds to their meaning, and makes them even more one-of-a-kind.
Seeing the plethora of nostalgia-inducing characters on Jono’s walls, we wondered which one was his all-time favourite. “Oh, that’s easy. Daffy. Daffy Duck is my favourite cartoon character of all time,” he laughed. “Daffy Duck is my favourite cartoon character because he’s kind of our inner selves. I heard this quote one time, and I’m paraphrasing: ‘We all aspire to be Bugs Bunny, but deep down we’re all Daffy.‘ We want what we want right now, we don’t want to have to wait for it, we don’t care who gets in the way. Deep down, there’s a little bit of that in all of us. We’re greedy. Bugs Bunny is another great cartoon character, but he’s not that relatable. Bugs Bunny always wins, he always has a quick comeback, he’s clever, and he always comes out on top. How many people do you know that are like that? Daffy is just a fighter.”
Jono Doiron’s work will be showcased in May at a group show at Slushbox Gallery in Florida, as well as a group show in Montreal later in the month organized by Art Happening Artistique. Check out his website for more of his work!