This artist creates one-of-a-kind celebrity portraits on maps, news clippings and sheet music
André Monet’s celebrity portraits may look effortless, but behind every famous face, there are months of research. Once the Montreal-based artist settles on a star, he collects everything he can find: news clippings, maps, sheet music, online excerpts and pages from books (sometimes related to his subject, sometimes not). He arranges them in a collage and then starts painting the portrait.
After shows in Seoul, Singapore, Dubai and London, Monet’s work has found a year-long home at Yorkville’s LUMAS Gallery. We caught up with him while he was in town and asked him to share the stories behind some of his most eye-catching images.
What’s in it? The score and lyrics to “Space Oddity”; a stamp with a space-exploration motif (“Every time I do a painting, I lay my thousands of stamps on the table and go through them to try to find something that relates to the subject. I bumped into this stamp by accident, and it was honestly like finding gold”); an unmarked map (“It’s unmarked because of how I see David Bowie: more in space than on Earth”).
Why Bowie? “Bowie was at his peak when I was a teen: his style of music was fresh and creative and it really opened my mind. I thought I knew and understood him then, but when I was working on this piece, I really listened to the songs. I read the lyrics, and putting them on the canvas reminded me that there’s still a lot I don’t know about them. They’re mysterious and deep. My work before this was primarily black-and-white, but LUMAS asked me to try different colours, so I made at least 20 samples with different colours. I started this one last Christmas, and he died just before this print hit the market.”
What’s in it? An archival map of Tibet and the Han Empire; pages from the K section of the dictionary; newspaper stories about Rihanna (“What happened with her and Chris Brown was disturbing for me. I had to put that down because I couldn’t gloss over that”).
Why Rihanna? “Before I created this piece, I didn’t like Rihanna. But I started going to painting classes, and they played Rihanna in the background. From there, I ended up listening to her all the time at home. I started watching her videos after that, and now I’m really into her. I came up with this pose in collaboration with LUMAS. It’s sexy without being obvious. To have Rihanna looking away from you, there’s something mysterious about that. I chose the maps for their colour—they’re there to create rhythm and add depth.”
What’s in it? A page from a typewriter manual; an old French map of the U.S.S.R. and China; a newspaper headline that says “Death passed by above my head.”
Why Cate Blanchett? “This is inspired by the movie Heaven, where you see her head being shaved. When I saw that movie, I thought, ‘I want to capture that image, and the look she had in her eyes.’ When the hair doesn’t get in the way of the graphics and the design, you focus on more important things, like the eyes and the ears. You can’t make any mistakes with the eyes because everything about the person is in their eyes. Meanwhile, on the lower left side, I did make a mistake and I covered it later. The lower left section was boring and I was trying to fix it, so I ended up just throwing some colours on in a rush, and it worked perfectly. Many people have tried to get me to remake this style, and I’ve never been able to. It’s magic that happened one time.”
What’s in it? A cartoon of a dog listening to a gramophone; lyrics to “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”; score to “Sympathy for the De
Why Mick Jagger? “I was trying to understand why his music is crazy-good, and why all women are crazy about Mick Jagger. I tried to find something really sexy about the subject: those lips, the signature on-stage movements that he’s known for. So many singers are amazing and cool, but he has a style above and beyond all of that.”
What’s in it? Lyrics to his song “December 4th”; a map of New York City; a diagram of Ra, Egyptian god of the sun (“To me, Jay’s like a god of hip-hop”).
Why Jay-Z? “I was doing my first show in New York when “Empire State of Mind” was released. That song boosted me up for months and made me happy, so I did this painting for me. This was a different approach for me: it’s more “street” than other collages I’ve made. We can see a lot more of the collage material—like lines of text—because I wanted people to be able to read about him. I bought the book he wrote, and there’s many things Jay-Z narrates about being Jay-Z, so I wanted that to be present in this work.”
What’s in it? Lyrics to her song “Haunted”; a stretched-out map of Europe; a butterfly stamp (“I couldn’t tell you why now, but at the time, Beyonce made me think of a butterfly”).
Why Beyoncé? “Beyoncé is always charming, like a real friend. She always seems accessible. She and Jay-Z have the same background colour—the pieces are meant to be together as a compatible set. LUMAS suggested the pose with the hand. I never paint hands—it’s extremely hard, and I prefer to leave the character of the image to the eyes—but I agreed because it seemed to fit. Beyoncé seems shy yet not shy at all. The pose adds to the story of the image.”
What’s in it? Score and lyrics to her song “Wake Up Alone”; a map of the British Isles; a page from her biography (“It’s there because it completes the photo, not because I actually read the whole book. It’s to add a little something to the piece”).
Why Amy Winehouse? “Way before Amy Winehouse was famous, I listened to her singing a cappella in a studio on YouTube. I used to listen to jazz, so I knew she was unique. The lyrics on her first album were so fresh, and I was really influenced by her music. She’s an amazing character. I was living in London when she was still alive, and I used to go to Camden, to the best pub in town, hoping to see her. I decided on this background colour to balance out the other colours in the series and create a sense of harmony. I have a version of the piece in my studio as well, but mine is deep, dark green. But I didn’t want to have something too dark and unhappy in print form, especially given her story, so I went with a more joyful, peaceful colour for this one.”