Inspired by the “cross beams, cable wires, crumbly bricks, dumpsters and shit on the ground” — or put simply, eclectic clutter — of Main and Hastings in Vancouver, artist Jon Shaw found his niche creating surreal, fantasy environments based on real surroundings.
Growing up in St. Catharines, Shaw was interested in drawing and followed his passion to Mount Allison University in Sackville, New Brunswick where he completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree before moving west to Vancouver to pursue his professional career.
While living in Vancouver, Shaw worked as a graphic designer for an ad agency and rented inexpensive studios where he painted for three hours after work each day.
“After art school I found that I could make a quality painting, but it still seemed dull and lacking. It was really frustrating during that period. Then, one morning, out of frustration I had made a drawing of a crow. I had drawn it with an ink pen — something I hadn’t been doing at the time — then I mixed a little bit of blue and brown acrylic and threw a single big brush mark across the drawing. This was super exciting and it opened up this whole new world of possibilites,” recalled Shaw.
“I then started doing this new layering process where I would trace around the edges of brush marks, and add little droplets of colour around those marks. I did a couple of pieces in this manner and I loved it. That was the jumping point.”
It was in this moment that he started blending illustration and painting techniques, using an exaggerated sense of form and hyper-saturated colours to establish pieces full of wonder and whimsy.
His fondness for urban landscape and the documentation of “the things we leave behind,” sparked a never-ending series of artworks portraying gritty and barren subject matter — the crumbling cityscape — based in both reality and fantasy.
His process begins with the act of roaming. Shaw walks around, searching endlessly for fantastic visuals to catch his attention.
“The idea of exploration is huge in my work. It’s all about walking around and seeing nothing cool for a while, then out of nowhere—BAM—this crumbly wall or backside of a building pops out of nowhere and I instantly know it will become a great piece,” he explained.
“From there, I take a lot of reference photos and reassemble them in Photoshop as a cool new reference image.”
The piece Nova Flux (pictured) was created in 2017, and is a mixture of back alleyways from both Vancouver and Thorold.
“I was here visiting my parents, and photographed some beautiful buildings in downtown Thorold. This source material travelled back to Vancouver where I mashed it together with West Coast urban imagery. This combined narrative, documenting my travels between these two homesteads, was wonderfully personal,” he explained.
On the topic of composing these new environments from hundreds of document photographs, Shaw explains: “You might see a dumpster with a bunch of really neat crap on it and think that it would look great as a painting, but everything surrounding it is boring! So, you take that cool chunk, and place it alongside some pipes and windows from another photograph, and you end up creating this surreal place that’s based on reality. Therefore, it becomes this neat combination of real world and fantasy.”
To follow Jon’s continuing artistic adventures, you can find his work online: