The fantastic artist MAXILIE MARTEL aka MONO SOURCIL from Montreal embellishes huge walls and facades in urban areas with her colorful and comiclike murals filled with weird and funny-scary characters. She started with small stickers and initially drew mainly business people in stress mode. At some point the figures became more and more oblique, the works of art bigger and bigger. Still her trademark is the “uni-brow”, which appears continously on her artworks and also reflects the meaning of the name. MONO SOURCIL means uni-brow.
MONO SOURCIL has painted a lot in her hometown Montreal, some of the artworks are on our Montreal Map, but there are also many murals and artworks in other cities in Canada, some in the United States, as well in Mexico and also in Haiti. With her crew KP10 she paints smaller figures and tag style, but meanwhile she is mostly fixated on the big walls. In the beginning she used to design her fascinating characters on a small scale, but after twelve years into street painting, entire urban jungle landscapes developed, filled with the wondrous and diverse beings from the MONO SOURCIL universe.
And that’s the interesting thing. These “characters” are actually us, the people on this planet, all of us. We are all different, and that’s a good thing. And we are not all always super beautiful, we make mistakes, especaially in stress situations in which we are pressed into, and we sometimes behave ugly and everything is not always okay. In her works, MONO SOURCIL discreetly criticizes this fake show about the need of being perfect, this hamster wheel of restrictions and roles into which one is forced in society and she shows in an amusing way that we are all different, that not everything is good or bad and that this diversity of humanity is basically our strength. We are all connected. In her creative wall comics the four-eyed guy, the zombie with hat, vampiressa and the butterfly whatever-thing are obviously super best friends. She just transports this connective family and friendship feelings in her artworks.
We spoke to MAXILIE MARTEL aka MONO SOURCIL about her creative world in an interview from Frankfurt to Montreal. If you want to listen, here is the podcast. If you want to read, the interview is transcribed below. And the photos and artworks speak for themselves. Enjoy!
We have meanwhile quite a lot artworks from you on our Montreal Map. So I know some of your works since a while. We can say you are not a graffiti artists, you don’t spray letters or names, you are more into characters. You developed your own character universe with a lot of interesting little figures, but they are all a bit monster like.
Yes, I kind of merged sci-fi style with humans and it is a way for me to express the imagination of a city which is really cosmopolitan. With this I want to promote multiculturalism and I like to play with the richness of diversity. I mainly do characters and I would define myself more as a muralist or street artists than a graffiti artist.
When did you start doing art? How did it happen that you started painting this great murals?
Well, I started quite young being interested by art. Right now I am 32 and I would say I started when I was 20. It is already now twelve years that I am working in the street art field. But I would say doing professional murals, I’ve been doing it for seven years.
I think at first you started with drawing on paper or in books? Or did you immediately go on the wall?
Actually I was mainly drawing a lot in the beginning. So yes, in sketch books and stuff like that. I did also canvas and I did also studies in art. I did my graduation when I was around 20. Around that age. So I did a lot of painting, but as well a lot of sculpturing as well. At some point I was attracted to street art more with stickers and paint markers. But slowly I tried to get bigger and bigger. It is a bit like a progressive work if you want to say.
When I went through your channels and checked your content, I got the feeling you created a whole own and unique universe. It is not that you paint on one day these kind of objects and on the other day something different. In some way it is all linked together. There is a huge family of characters and you have as well additional sculptures which show as well kind of those figures. You make paintings on canvas. But it is this all in this special style and like a whole universe of unique figures. And some of those characters appear more often.
Yes. Basically when I started I used to never draw the same character again and I tried different techniques. Let’s say I was imposing me a restriction like, I would doing a drawing just in one line. Or I would do a drawing just with recently lines or just with vertical lines. So I kind of challenged myself with those restrictions. But at some point I kind of focus on one style. I drew as well a lot of comics when I was young. Maybe more like classical comics like Disney, if we can say so. But at some point when I was at school I kind of started to unlearn what I learned. I used a style which was really naïve. At some point I was feeling that I start to lose a bit my techniques and my drawing skills. So I returned to my more like classical cartoon techniques, but using a bit a naïve style at the same time. That’s kind of how my style of characters evolved over time because of that. That’s how it happened.
How did you made these sculptures? They are really cool!
Oh thanks. My latest sculpting work was a project for the end of my master degree at the university. I wanted to merge my street art style with maybe something that is more institutional. So I did my sculptures for that project, they were all made out of clay. But I used to work with different materials on it like written moose or foam or chicken wire and many other things. I am not sticking with one material, but for my latest project it was made out of clay.
It is really interesting and fascinating. The sculptures or the faces look a bit like ceramics, because I think you put something on it to make it more shiny. And you have as well whole sculpture bodies and masks. It is very diverse what you created. As well here with the bubbles and the foam, it’s very interesting.
Thank you. And yes, the sculptures you mentioned are actually ceramics.
Back to your murals and this character family. When I looked at the huge walls I just had the intro from The Simpsons in mind. In the beginning when you see all the characters. I just thought this is now the Mono Sourcil series world and you see all the characters, but it is more from the demons’s and monster’s town. Because you don’t have the super friendly guys. I mean they are friendly in their way but you put in creepy stuff and demons and vampires and aliens.
Yes, and robots. When I started I used to draw mainly business man. So my subject was more in having a routine, a pattern and being stuck in it. Like the way we are also get encouraged to work like 40 hours a week and so on. I was focusing a bit in that direction and together with the bad feelings that we can have sometimes when restricted by those kind of schedules. So I was doing people that were really looking aguish or stressful. With this kind of style I started pushing more into that direction, but slowly they became monsters and evolving robots and all that style. That’s why they all have this kind of weird expression sometimes. But with the time I also started to include as well smiley characters as well. Just because in the world we live there is a big range of emotions and feelings and also in the face, there are different kind of noses and different kinds of mouths. I wanted to do works where my characters have different shapes that would build their faces. Let’s say compared to Disney princesses where they are about all the same. Just the same frame and maybe the clothing or the hair will change. This is how they difference, but it is sometimes a bit repetitive in the style. So I wanted to avoid that repetition.
I think it is as well a good criticisms on this face perfect style, because we are all different on this planet and this is good. And we are not all super beautiful and we also don’t have to be.
When you put the Disney princesses next to each other, maybe they are beautiful from the outside but ugly from the inside. And here at your paintings I see the four eyed guy with the apocalyptic robot and the vampire and in between there is the teddy bear, but you just know that they are super good friends.
Yes, it also has this feeling of a gathering. I would say today I am also very interested about that tendency that we humans want to gather with others and share our knowledge, experiences or culture. I believe when there are gatherings like that it is a good moment to share and learn about others. Also I feel today with the pandemic situation where we are more and more often divided, I feel like it is interesting to bring in that spirit of community. That is still really important.
I really like the artworks as well when you have only one character or maybe two. But I think the best effect of it when there are more. When you have a big wall, you could choose to make only one big face, but no, you try to make a lot of faces on it. And the variety of so many different characters, this is very cool.
Thanks! Actually I would like to work another project where there would be only one big character, but the body of it would be composed of tons of little characters. I would like to do that maybe for my next season or something like that in that spirit of we are one. We are all living at the same place, we share the same planet. So it is kind of the idea that we are one and we should support each other.
Some words to your color composition. I think it is as well typical for your style and fits very good together with the characters and the style of the characters. Because you don’t use this fresh and bright colors, like strong yellow, red or blue. You have more decent colors. The blue is more a decent blue and you try altogether not to push it in the front. But it makes a real nice composition together with the unique characters.
Thank you! Well actually I really like to work the colors in monochromatic. So let’s say with monochromatic, there is a different shade of the same range of colors. It brings something that works well together because it stays in the same color pallet. And I like sometimes to add a few more accents from a complementary recolor. So it brings something that is really vibrant and really light. Because sometimes the character could look a bit strange or stressful, like we described earlier. So I like clash of that kind of let’s say bad vibe with the brightness of the color which is really funny and colorful. So it is kind of a play between those two oppositions. Let’s say between cute and ugly.
I think to have the colors to have pale and not always strongly bright is a perfect mix with the characters.
Well it depends on the project. Sometimes I have some projects where the colors might be a bit more grey or desaturate. But usually I like to play with a lot of saturate colors actually.
Tell me more about how you paint the murals. Do you use brushes or do you do it with the spray can or both or other instruments?
I don’t use any brush usually. I will fill up my colors with a roller and a pan. And I would finish with the spray paint. So the spray paint would be used only to do outlines and the inner lines. But I prefer to use outdoor latex to fill up the colors and to avoid my footprint on the planet. I don’t want to put too much spray paint cans for waste into the garbage. I prefer to use big buckets to fill up the color. And usually how I do what I am doing a mural. I would do my mock up on my Ipad at Procreate and when it is done with the dimensions and good proportions of the wall, then I would prepare the wall with primer. Then I would do a projection at night and I would do a first tracing. In the next step I would fill up the colors and then finish with my final outlines. Usually it could take me around seven days to do a big mural.
The artworks you do on canvas and paper, some look like made with ink or maybe even oil or with a pen. How do you make them?
Honestly, doing canvas is what I like less to do. I don’t do it so often, because I am really enjoying more to use spray paint and to go out. But if I have to do a canvas usually I would do the same process and I would do my outlines maybe more with a paint marker.
How about your recent works, you did some great artworks in the last year and you went to some festivals. Tell us a bit more about your last murals.
This summer I did many murals at different places. I did a lot of them for restaurants and bars. I have been hired by a beer company to do a mural for the St. Patrick’s Day. I did it during the month of March, so it was quite cold here in Montreal. Like minus 4 degrees, so it was quite challenging to work that early in the year. I did many other, as well I went to a festival called Efemar in Guadeloupe. There I painted with guys from that country and also from France. And I did also a lot of other murals for independent clients.
You posted not long ago that you made your biggest mural.
I am not sure if you are referring to my Instagram, I kind of put all the work at the end. So the biggest wall what I did was in Calgary for the Bump Mural Fest. And it is about something around 150 feet long by 23 feet high, something like that or maybe a big higher.
I think in Canada it is the same like here or in other countries, during the pandemic and lockdown times you couldn’t go to museums or do any events inside. So the street artists were a bit lucky because o the street you didn’t have problems with keeping distance and those things. I have a lot of friends who said, luckily I am a streetart painter, so I could still go out.
Yes, it is true. Well we can still do our work, but at the same time there were a lot of festivals which got cancelled or they reduced the invitation. So I would say we have been a bit affected but at the same time maybe less than other artists. Because as you say, we are working outdoors. It is not like that we could not go outside.
Yes, sure, all the jams and festivals couldn’t take place. That’s a big part of the whole scene and of doing art together. You like to go to festivals and jams?
Yes, for sure. It is one of the things I prefer, because it is at those moments where you can meet new artists or new people and also other street artists and muralists. It is a bit like a big family at some point. We follow the works of the others and we share and see each others at different events. So there is again a lot of the idea of gathering. It is coming from that cultural scene. And there you meet a lot of friends. I like those festivals where there is this exchange between artists and where we can meet each other. It is also funny, because in Montreal the muralists don’t work as well during winter time, because it is not easy to paint the same when it is minus 25 degree. So it is funny, because we cannot see each other for a while during winter, all the muralists and street artists from Montreal. And then when summer is coming again and all the festivals are happening, we are seeing each other again and it is like, hey, it has been a while. It’s fun to see them again. So in that kind of context, it is like having some friends, that are not really insistently your best friends, but in another way you are always happy to see them again the year after during summer time.
I have seen here as well you are also doing performances?
I used to do them but now it has been far in my head. Maybe one day I will do another art performance but now I am really more focusing today into muralism. Way more than into any other art discipline that I used to touch when I was younger.
You live now in Montreal, but did you live as well somewhere else in the years before?
No, I never been living somewhere else. But I used to travel a bit, but never like to stay in another places.
But I am sure you travelled as well, like you said for example du Guadalupe, or to other countries for painting? Where on the world can people find as well artworks from you?
There are a lot of them, not very many, but quite a few in the United States. I went to the Basel House Mural fest in Miami, I did something in North Carolina in Charlotte town and I did also something in Colorado Springs. And there are artworks in the west of Canada like in Kelowna or as we said earlier in Calgary. Also I made one time a mural in Haiti. That was really interesting. It was a school project to involve women in the streetart field. Because in that country it is like more men were doing it. Well, there were only men. So it was to show them that as a woman they could do something like that as well. They were really receptive and it was really nice to meet those girls and to share with them the experience that I have. And it was also interesting to see how it affected them later on. Because it has already been two years now since I have been there, but you can see that since that time they are pursuing what I learned them. So it is fun to see when you are going somewhere else sometimes and that has an impact on that community.
This is great and you said some good words for my next question. You are a female street artists and there are not so many, there are more and more female artists appearing, so that is good, but how do you percept of the development since you started? I am sure twelve years ago there were a lot less than now.
Yes, definitely. I believe, because there is a little bit a trend and now there are more and more mural festivals all around the world. So they kind of show more of that work, if we can say it like this. So I think it is more accessible and also there are more persons like me who can be an example for other women. And I see a difference. There are way more women today who are painting compared to ten years ago in Montreal.
For sure it is not always easy, because it is a field where are a lot of guys and sometimes, you know, where it is a bit macho in a sense. Sometimes to get accepted in a crew is not always easy. But you know, you need to start somewhere and do your proof like everyone. For me, I used to work mostly alone without any kind of crew and it didn’t really matter to me to have a crew behind me to back me up. But now I am in a crew and I enjoy to paint with them. But for about ten years I wasn’t in any kind of crew until recently. Maybe I have to proof myself than the guy in the same field than me, but I did it. I used this more as a fuel to continue than something that would stop me.
You said “your crew”. So what is the name of your crew and what do you do?
Well with them I am doing more graffiti. So it is called KP10. So it is a pawn with the words capitan and the letters and the number. This is more into the graffiti scene than about doing murals.
About your name MONO SOURCIL. What does it mean and how did it come that you are using it?
“Mono Sourcil” means “Unibrow”. It is like just one eyebrow. When I started to paint I used to do different characters and they were all alone. So I wanted to put something like a common point between each other. So I choose to have the unibrow because I found it kind of funny, obvious and also unisex. I choose that to become my signature, because it is a symbol that is repeating on each character. But now since I am doing them in a crowd I don’t have to add a unibrow to each of them, because now more recognize the style and the signature. But when I started it wasn’t like that much. It was more a symbol to recognize the artist.
It started like a trademark but now you changed your design, you put on more and more characters and the people they just know them. They just know now, oh, that is Mono Sourcil.
Yes, but when there is a crowd, there will be a few of the characters for sure that have a unibrow. But I don’t have now to put on all of them unibrows, because they are not alone. But if I would do just one character, for sure he will have one.
For this year, it just started, but do you have any plans already or is there any new project coming up?
Right now at the moment it is hard to say for next year because I am kind of having a period where I summit proposals. So for me, winter time is more paper work and I try to find projects for the next summer. Right now is more the period where I am submitting proposals everywhere I can. Also to many festivals and I am hoping I will get positive answers and can return. So right now it is hard to say. And I also have some projects which are on standby. I don’t know if they will go on or not. So I am a bit in that kind of grey zone right now and I am trying to build my next season of work. It is happening slowly and usually I will have more and better ideas what are going to be my projects around April.
Meanwhile we have really a lot of photographs and content from Patrice Loranger on our Montreal Map, so I know some places and artworks. Which are your favorite places and where do you like to paint in Montreal?
Actually there is not really one specific place where I like to paint, because I prefer to try to find a big wall. So I never really know where it is going to be. It is depending on who will let me paint or who is willing to do a mural project with me. This is more for the moment, but I used to like to paint in abandoned factory places or in train yards. When I started I was more like doing it in backstreet alleys and those places. There is no specific place where I really enjoy to go like going always on the same place. I prefer to find different walls to maybe expend my territory, let’s say it like that. But I used to like to go to abandoned factory places in the way of urban explorer style. But now since I am focusing more on bigger and bigger projects I try to find more specific walls that will response to what I want to do.
I think your universe should expand more and maybe in a few years when I check the television there will be a series where your great characters come to life, walking around and speak to each other. I can really imagine a comic series with your figures.
Yes, that would be cool. Maybe a bit like kind of the office and the cartoon version. But yes, I am not really into doing animation, but I would for sure like to see them alive in a sort of way. But I don’t have any skills about animation. Still, you never know what the future will bring.
Artworks from MONO SOURCIL on the Montreal Map
Artist: MONO SOURCIL – MAXILIE MARTEL