Taking Iconic Cartoon Characters to a Whole New Level: Meet Pop Artist Sy Prevost

Sylvian (Sy) Prevost

Photo credit: Isabelle Paradis

Sylvian (Sy) Prevost is a Canadian multidisciplinary concept artist and producer, based in Mount Royal, Quebec. His studies in commercial arts, marketing, television and film production and screenwriting brought him to work with countless prestigious companies over the past 25 years such as Revlon, Molson, the National Film Board of Canada, and CBC to name but a few. Amongst his prize pieces, is a 12-foot version of the Artis Awards trophy for the televised red-carpet portion of the show and a 9-foot metal sculpture called ‘’Madeleine and Sally’’ that stands proudly on the front lawn of a small Museum in Quebec Canada. The sculpture is in reference to the 1960’s hit TV series called ‘’The Flying Nun’’ starring Sally Fields and Madeleine Sherwood. Sy has had the good fortune of creating many other notable pieces. There is his painting of Leonard Cohen in honour of the first of countless conversations he had with the famous poet. As well, Sy has produced a wood sculpture of the mascot from the Just for Laughs Festival that proudly sits next to an original piece by Andy Warhol in the private collection of Andy Nulman, the President of the Just for Laughs festival and an avid art collector.

By Al Gord

Sy, I am looking forward to this interview with interview you. You have been in the creative industry for quite a while. Can you tell us a little about how your work in marketing, television and film production and screenwriting has played a role in your career as a visual artist?

My studies in television and film production and screenwriting have given me an incredible work structure that I apply in my day-to-day routine as a visual artist. Working in a domain with such high expectations has also forged my level of work ethics and creativity but most importantly, it has taken away all sense of boundaries or limits. The crazier the idea, the more I want to do it! I have learnt to treat my paintings as I would a movie script. The standard movie contract stipulates that the screenwriter deliver four drafts: a first draft, a final draft, a re-write, and a polish. I always keep that in mind from the beginning of the creative process up until delivery.

My decision to study in marketing or more precisely, ‘’marketing and business practices’’ and ‘’social media marketing’’ at Concordia University came about when I sold my first television series. I had taken the courses to better understand the world of selling publicity on television and internet. I loved it so much that I never had to hire an external firm and I confidently went on to produce my own TV commercials and social media strategies. I successfully adapted my marketing skills to self-promote my artwork on social media, which accounts for 40% of my sales worldwide. My posts have generated leads and or sales every time I post to the point where some of my paintings have found a home in less than 40 minutes.

My studies give you an idea of my overall capacities but having worked in this industry has also given me a non-neglectable fan base that now follows me as a visual artist.

I understand that COVID 19 played a huge role in both your art career and your business. Can you tell us more about the impact it had on you and the defining moment where you realized that you wanted to focus on being an artist?

COVID 19 was a huge game changer indeed. I was working on two major festivals for September 2020, the Laval Laughs festival in Laval Quebec and the ‘’Farmland Festival’’ in Montreal that were to be postponed until 2021. What really took a hit was my props rental and set design division of my production company. What looked to be a record year turned out to be a chain of cancellations that lead to the closing of my studio.

The saying ‘’when one door closes another opens’’, really was true in my case. I had been working on a book for a short while just before the beginning of Covid. The book is somewhat of a ‘’coming of age tale’’ in the form of short stories accompanied by paintings and sculptures about the many incredible life changing encounters and relationships I have had with people such as Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, members of Kiss, Celine Dion, and Charlton Heston to name only a few.

A picture of my Leonard Cohen painting with my Kiss related painting in its background caught the eye of a gallery owner in Quebec City’s art district called ‘L’Ésprit Créatif’’. The owner immediately contacted me and asked if I was interested in submitting my candidature for a spot in the gallery. Not having any other paintings than the three that they had already seen, I asked them to give me a few weeks to prepare a few more for them. That is when I elaborated my first concept series called ‘’Tabasco POP’’ that features POP Iconic characters such as Spiderman, Astérix, and Kiss in a ‘’fake publicity posters’’ format. I showed up with several new paintings knowing that the spot was not guaranteed. After a few minutes of conversation, she offered me a one-year contract and told me that there had been roughly 150 submissions so far for this final spot. Less than a month later a second gallery owner made me the same offer, which led me to a second gallery in Montreal and third one in Vancouver.

The public reaction to my work was so huge and positive that I knew then and there that I wanted to focus on being an international artist.

Sylvian (Sy) Prevost

For those who are not yet familiar with your art, how would you describe your style and works as a multidisciplinary concept artist?

I consider myself a Pop art painter, influenced by Warhol, Lichtenstein, Haring, and Koons. My subjects reflect, but are not limited to the traditional Pop culture, vintage publicity, movies, Saturday morning cartoons, and comic books heroes. My most popular works and best sellers are often those with multiple characters set in a crazy utopian environment, with unlikely situations, such as my painting titled “Casting Call for the Birds”, which takes you on the set of the famous Alfred Hitchcock film during the casting call. Daffy Duck sits in the casting director’s chair surrounded by a multitude of famous cartoon birds getting ready to audition for a role in the film. What is exciting is that people are already recognizing my work without looking at the signature.

As for my style in sculptures, as few as they are, has yet to be defined. My first sculpture was an 18 x 36 inch wooden carousel horse, created nearly 30 years ago. I went from horse to a 3D wooden cartoon reproduction of the Just for Laughs festival mascot. This sculpture sits in the private collection of the festival’s co-founder and avid art-collector Andy Nulman. I was honored when he said to have placed it next to an original Andy Warhol piece. I am confident that my new series called ‘’12 Monkeys’’ will establish my style for years to come.

My writing style for television and film is reflection of my visual art. My first TV production that aired was a series of comedy fishing shows hosted by a standup comedian from the city who didn’t have a clue about fishing, in French we call it ‘’Le Contre-emploi’’ or ‘’Anti-hero’’.

While under contract with Equinox Films (2005-2009), I was asked by Academy Award nominee MC Poulin to conceptualize a series of films implicating new and up-coming stand-up comedians in a ‘’teen movie’’ format. The first movie followed the misadventures of a group of stand-up comedians from the Montreal’s National Comedy School, as they take a wrong turn and get lost on their way for a national comedy competition in Abitibi.

Casting Call for the Birds

Casting Call for the Birds

You have shared that your art is inspired by words and writing and your concept often begins from a single word or phrase. Can you explain the process you use in creating a piece and how your process transfers over to canvas?

It could be silly at times and as simple as last night for instance, I was looking at my latest commissioned painting for a Star Wars fan, the owner of Jakibi, an online international auction. He chose a collage of past and present characters disposed in a classic movie poster format. You can see it on my website. It got me thinking of a title for another majestic piece that I am going to call, “In a Galaxy Near You”. The painting will please a multitude of generations, whether you are a Star Wars fan, a “Trekie” or just a person who remembers sitting in front of the black and white TV with his parents and watched Apollo 11 land on the moon. I can already see the format, a 30 x 60 with the main character being a nod to George Meliese, the Master of Illusion who has inspired moviemakers for decades. Once I have written all of my ideas on paper, I dig a bit further into the origins of my subjects, just in case I overlooked an interesting fact that could be portrayed in my illustration. From there I make a pencil sketch to harmonize the characters and create a discrete form of interaction or statement.

Your pieces are both nostalgic and iconic concerning the subject matter. What drew you to creating paintings with these iconic images?

I love the historical and nostalgic side of it all and how it touches a chord in everyone, the way a simple image can bring people of all ages and ethnicities together.

Many artists try different media and subject matter. Did you experiment with different approaches to painting or is your style and subject matter something that you have always focused on?

Excellent question! As you all know, I have been a commercial artist since my teens so I never really had a particular style or subject matter because it would vary depending on the customer’s needs. My work with Artefact studios has also contributed to the vast experience with different materials daily. We would make multiple copies of a certain thematic sculptures and adapt them to the needs of the customer. For example, a sculpture delivered locally was less resistant or complicated to make than one shipped to Honolulu to be displayed in an open sky central court. The sculpture had to resist the torrential weather and transportation.

The first painting I did was in acrylic and the subject was inspired by the late Joanne Corno’s style. That was about 12 years ago. Since then, I’ve been focusing on two styles that I use on a regular basis for the galleries, a Saturday morning cartoon à la ‘’Warner Bros’’ style and a comic book style based on various Marvel and DC illustrations. I recently took an online course with Marvel Illustrator Ariel Olivetti who uses a mix of watercolour and acrylic techniques. A good example of this is my ‘’YODA’’ in the commissioned Star Wars piece.

You might find some of my work out there that looks to be out of ‘’Heavy Metal’’ magazine as well because I have customers who love the grungy badass dark side of my art. I have yet to produce a speculation piece in this style.

Your works are quite notable and are located in some prestigious places. Can you share any of that with us?

I feel blessed to be in the major art districts of Quebec Canada. The first gallery is at the old port in Quebec City, which is the oldest port in Canada. Renowned artist Nathalie Chiasson and her daughter Amélie Anne who is also an artist operate the gallery. Despite COVID, they did extremely well in 2020 to a point that they opened a second location across the street. You will find a whole wall dedicated to my work in both galleries. The other two galleries are in the Old Port of Montreal and across the country in Vancouver, British Columbia. Owned and operated by Hervé Garcia, the gallery is a European format where there are works on the walls from in-house artists like myself. Emerging artists pay a rental spot for their work to be shared in a flip stand format in the middle of the gallery and along the walls.

I am a huge music fan and my focus as an artist is rock stars. I understand that you met David Bowie. What was that experience like?

Circa 1989, I was in my early twenties. I was walking along the street in Montreal and came across a familiar face. It was one of my good restaurant customers Louise Le Cavalier from the world famous dance troupe Lalala Human Steps. We stopped to say hello and engaged in some small talk, when politely introduced me to her work colleague. ”Oh Sylvain, this is David”. Bowie and I shook hands as we both said, ”Pleased to meet you”. Then he pointed to my hair and said, ”We must have the same barber!” as I had a David Bowie haircut back then. Following that was a few minutes of small talk mainly about restaurants in the area. As short as it may have been it was an experience that I will never forget! Louise, considered as one of the world’s best dancers, shared the stage with David for a couple of years on his ‘’Let’s Dance’’ tour.

I had lunch with Louise a few months ago and she said that she remembered that day clearly.

Art is very personal and as artists, we can become very attached to our work. Do you have one specific painting or series that holds special meaning for you?

I love them all like my children, (laughs) but occasionally I will drive out to the country to see my monumental metal sculpture in honour of the late Madeleine Sherwood and American actor Sally Field that stands 12 feet tall in front of a small museum in St Hippolyte Quebec. Her lifelong best friend Pauline Bernier Fitch commissioned it. Pauline is a voting Academy Awards member. She also commissioned me to produce a honourific short documentary film that was to be shown at the Actors Studio in New York where Madeleine Sherwood studied and taught amongst other well-known actors, Marilyn Monroe and Marlon Brando. She has yet to commission me for a painting though (laughs).

I know that you have an upcoming project ‘’Twelve Monkeys’’ to be released in the summer of 2021. Can you tell us about this series?

I think that this will certainly define my style as a sculptor. ‘’Twelve Monkeys’’ was inspired by one of my favourite childhood toys called ‘’Barrel of Monkeys’. The fact that it contained 12 pieces makes it a great link to the 1995 Terry Gilliam film ‘’12 Monkeys’’ starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe and Brad Pitt. Strangely enough, I came up with this project just before COVID thus the parallel with the movie and COVID is a great coincidence as well. I love the fact that the movie also touches on the subject of mental health, a cause that I respect and support. I am getting ready to give an interview for a mental health magazine on the subject of raising mental health awareness through art. I hope that my 12 Monkeys will also serve to open more dialogue on the cause.

The first series of freestanding 12-inch monkeys will be casted in coloured acrylic and made available through my website and my representing art galleries. A second series of 12 will be cast in mat white and ready to be ‘’pimped’’ by 12 fellow artists for a Worldwide collaborative project. A call for participants for this project will announced on social media in July along with terms and conditions.

Sy, I have really enjoyed delving into your backstory and your art. Your new project sounds incredible. I am looking forward to seeing it. I love the connection to mental health, as it is also something very important to me. In closing, is there any message that you hope others take away from your art?

I hope that my art and path will inspire others to make art in any form possible without self-imposed boundaries.

Hotter than Tabasco

Hotter than Tabasco

The last year plus has been a whirlwind for Sy Prevost. From his ‘’Hotter than Hell’’, painting opening the door for him to gain gallery representation, to his current 12 Monkeys collaboration, Sy’s future in the art world is an exciting one. His eye-catching pop art paintings of icon cartoon characters can be seen on his website and his social media pages: Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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