Call it conversations on canvas, or if you like, visual jazz. The Montreal-based live-painting initiative En Masse, which gathered some of its sharpest talents to create an exclusive work for SAFEWALLS this past November, has been making a lot of noise for a little under two years now. 2011 promises even bigger things — and En Masse is all about going big!
Deploying teams of no less than four and as many as forty-plus artists drawn from the milieus of the fine arts, graphic design, graffiti, tattooing, underground comics, and indie concert-poster creation, En Masse specializes in large-scale murals — always in black and white, always totally improvised on the spot, and always totally collaborative. The works are essentially gigantic extensions of the “exquisite corpse,” the spontaneous, collaborative drawing strategy invented by the Surrealist movement in which one artist after another adds to an unplanned and increasingly strange and wondrous image. Reflecting the spectrum of street and lowbrow art, En Masse presents a mélange of so many different personal styles that nonetheless blend together seamlessly in an eye-popping, hallucinatory stew. The philosophy of En Masse, on the other hand, is very simple and clear: bring visual artists out of their lonely studios and into a lively community, and share their excitement with a public hungry for honest, unpretentious, engaging art.
En Masse began as an exhibition curated by founders Jason Botkin and Tim Barnard at Galerie Pangée in Montreal’s Old Port district, in February 2009. It was intended to be a one-time-only affair. Over the course of the month’s 28 days, the same number of artists filled 1,200 square feet of paper-covered wall space, unveiling the final work at month’s end with a banging party during the Montreal Highlights Festival’s all-night Nuit Blanche event. The results were so impressive and the public reaction so enthusiastic that En Masse simply had to continue. Since the Nuit Blanche launch, En Masse has had gallery shows, high-profile festival engagements (Montreal’s Osheaga and Escales Improbables, for instance), private contracts for clients like Sid Lee and the Old Port’s Petit Hotel, even community-outreach efforts connecting the En Masse team with artistically inclined teenagers.