Man About Town

Jack Dylan brings his art back to Montreal

Jack Dylan will be showing his art works at The Red Bird Gallery.

Jack Dylan has been un flâneur about town for years and he didn’t even know it.

“It’s a pretty well-known term in circles who study modernity and art history and things like that, but I actually didn’t know about it until a year or two ago,” said Dylan. “I realized, ‘Oh, that’s what I do.’”

Un flâneur has a couple of different connotations: here in Quebec, it’s the term used to describe a loiterer. As coined by Charles Baudelaire however, le flâneur is someone who strolls around a city, observing and experiencing the different people and places.

It is this concept that characterizes the retrospective exhibit of Dylan’s work at the Red Bird Gallery, showing from August 27 to September 6, where a large collection of his posters, as well as many never before seen original drawings, will be on display.

Dylan is well known for the posters he’s designed for local bands and concerts over the past six years­–from a stained-glass cathedral façade shaping the words “Arcade Fire” to Marvel Comics-inspired covers depicting superheroes hanging around in classic Plateau scenery for the annual POP Montreal festival. His style exemplifies modern illustration typically found on the cover of The New Yorker—and it’s no accident.

“I’m really heavily influenced by The New Yorker,” Dylan admitted. “The covers have a lot to do with flânerie; it’s very premised on the same concept. The New Yorker is like the publication for the flâneur, by un flâneur. It’s that city-centric, bourgeois kind of thing.”

One of the trademark quirks of Dylan’s posters is that they often have little to do with the kind of music the poster is promoting.

“It might be relevant to the music if I know the band very well,” he explained. “But a lot of the earlier posters I did were for small, independent bands.”

“[Between] 2005 and 2008, I was making nearly a poster a week, and I would typically just do whatever was on my mind,” he said. “That’s part of the advantage of doing posters: there’s no art direction and since they aren’t paying you very much, you get total freedom. If I wanted to make it look like a New Yorker cover I would go ahead and do it, even if it was going to be a hardcore show.”

Some of these iconic posters will be on sale, framed and in large format, alongside a display of hundreds of chronologically-ordered drawings which Dylan describes as “the bones of the posters.”

He will also be giving a talk on the concept of le flâneur and how it has factored into his work along with living and working as an illustrator.

“I’ve made so many posters, close to 250,” he said. “The thing about illustration is, you can do it just about anywhere with Internet access. I’ve even been able to travel while doing freelance work.”

With this retrospective exhibition comes a new chapter for Dylan. Purely self-taught, Dylan has recently made the move to Toronto to give art school a shot.

“I feel very fortunate that I moved to Montreal in 2004 and got to be there for the past six years—from the time when bands like Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade were unknown until the time when they became a world phenomenon,” he said. “But that was a while ago now and it’s still a good place to live. Cities have to be good places for artists to live in order for them to produce work. The thing that changes that is when cities become too expensive and that hasn’t happened here yet, not by a long shot”

As for what the future holds, Dylan intends to focus more on editorial illustration than on the posters that launched his career.

­­“Over the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot fewer music posters,” he said. “It doesn’t get beyond around 10 in a given year whereas before it’d be around 56. I’m doing a lot of editorial work for magazines now, which I really enjoy. When you get a good art director, it can be really satisfying, in the same way that doing music posters was.”

Dylan’s got good news to share for hopeful prospective illustrators looking to go down the same path: “It’s a very easy industry to get into,” he said. “You just need about $500 to start up, and you need a website. Then you just send [off your] stuff.”

Le Flâneur: An exhibition of posters by Jack Dylan will take place on Friday, Aug. 27 and run until Monday, Sept. 6 at the Red Bird Gallery (135 Van Horne Ave. West). The vernissage takes place at 7 p.m. Dylan’s artist talk will be presented at 8 p.m.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 02, published August 24, 2010.