Robert Mondoux – Painter

Meet Robert Mondoux. His friends call him Bob. We've been his friend for decades, so we think we've earned that right. Bob is a Montreal artist who mainly paints snapshots of fascinating little details in and around the city.

bob-at-villa-maria
Robert Mondoux with Villa Maria at Villa Maria Metro Station

He starts off with photos that he's taken, then gets to work to recreate them with his unique brand of artistic flair. His attention to detail is more than impressive – it appears almost obsessive. The results are nothing short of magical. We love his work.

Now let's go get some insight into how he does this stuff...

So Bob, when did you start creating these paintings from your photos, and what gave you the idea to do so?
RM: Hi Mark. Thanks for having me on your site.
Well, to answer your first question, I would tell you that I'm 52 years old and have always been a visual creative in many areas.

I began with an obsession with underground or low-budget film-making: Super-8, 16mm, ¼ inch video, HD digital video, etc... This was always accompanied by constant exploration in graphics, posters, t-shirt art, cartoons as well as digital 2D and 3D imagery and animation and Special-FX.

I've worked in digital animation imagery for several years now, and I increasingly felt the need to counter-balance this world with a more visceral, hands-on medium.

Number 3880 - by Robert Mondoux
Number 3880 - by Robert Mondoux

So I began a long series of photo-images with an eye towards de-volving them backwards toward a more primitive state; a painting.

After accumulating enough images to convince myself of the value of this pursuit, I began the paintings about two years ago. After some experimentation, I felt enough of a continuity to present them publicly.

Well, we're glad you did! How do you choose your subjects?
RM: Initially, there was a lot of thought involved regarding Urban Imagery. There's a great movement already afoot of Urban Landscape painting – from classics like Edward Hopper to current lesser-known artists like Detroit's Stephen Magsig or Montreal's Jeremy Price.*

Watching Over Us - by Robert Mondoux
Watching Over Us - by Robert Mondoux

I was inspired by this movement, but realized my focus was less vast and street-wide but more roof-corner, parking meter, or isolated traffic light. My view narrowed to a few small fissures in the sidewalk, or a rusty aqueduct valve, in order to make the viewer feel the rest of the surrounding world outside the canvas frame – if that makes any sense.

But as I continued my photo-taking process on long walks and lunch breaks through older parts of Montreal, I found that my “planned” images were sometimes less interesting than those quickie-after-thought-grabbed-nearby-just-because-I-was-there-and-why-not ones.

I would later review the photos and find this magical thing in the corner of that 'quickie-grab'. So I think you need both a plan, and an openness to spontaneity and happy accident.

What kind of camera(s), and which software, do you use for your photos?
I have a Canon Rebel AE for planned excursions, but also found that just using my LG phone's camera was a way to always be ready for any spontaneous moment.

Photo - Robert Mondoux
Photo - Robert Mondoux

I only use PhotoShop – or even just my phone's simple photo adjustments – in order to see the details I know I want to focus on. I just bring them out of the darkness, for instance, even if they may return to darkness in the finished painting.

Or I only use PS to “assemble” a shot from several elements. Like that sky over this building, and tuck that lamp post closer to the left. This assembly – if even required – is very choppy and cut-and-paste and only serves to guide me like a sketch. The “work” is on the canvas.

That's interesting. So can you give us some idea of your workflow? What’s the process from when you first see a scene you want to capture to when you actually start painting?

Photo - Robert Mondoux
Photo - Robert Mondoux

RM: Sure. The process begins by being obsessed, willing and ready.
I only use my own personal photos, with very few exceptions.
I almost always have some kind of camera on me.
I jolt the driver of the car to “Stop here! Stop here!” or wade through traffic and stand on the middle double-line to aim up at that roof edge.
I squeeze through ripped metal fences and climb broken concrete foundations to grab that shot (Have I mentionned that I'm 52? Not getting any easier.).
I believe that my guerilla-style film-making days made me ready to “steal” any moment and grab any opportunity I can, as best I can.
Then sometimes that shot I nearly killed myself for ends up being meaningless – it just doesn't translate onto the image as I had hoped. But that quick shot of the bus on the way home – look at that – it's perfect. So you just have to be ready for anything.

After I sift through and select a few images, I begin cropping them – moving the edges inward – and creating a parameter that will suit the canvas frame. Many artists use the “landscape” shape (wider than tall) to bring out their worldview. This is the natural way we see the world with our two eyes – wider than high. It's also why movies are shot that way.

Midday Loft - by Robert Mondoux
Midday Loft - by Robert Mondoux

But I'm 6 foot 1 inch tall (metric SHMETRIC...) and fairly slim. I feel this has perhaps skewed my viewing preference to being taller than wide, and I've found an instinctive fondness for the taller format known as “portrait” style.

I also find it brings out the parallel vertical lines so abundant on city streets; the door frames, the corner edge, the parking signs, the lamp posts.

Then I sketch out the scene edges onto the canvas. This can become like an architectural drawing, using rulers, stencils and compasses. This accuracy allows me to pick and chose the details desired and which ones to purposely disregard.

Wow! That sounds very involved. But I guess that would be needed with the level of detail you put into your work, right?
RM: Actually, there are two important things I've learned in the painting of man-made structures and objects:

1. Decide what to ignore/leave out.
You simply cannot always paint every separate brick when there are 1500 of them way across the street. This is a common error of beginners; to overload the image with tiny detail. The beginner will either overcrowd the image with brick lines, or semi-give-up and vaguely mess in some patchy brick spots. Remember this ISN'T a photo. The photo's over there on the table, THIS is a painting. A painting transforms the image into an organic, hand-made experience.

There's the “World's Greatest Dad” mug from the store, all perfect and machine-made; then there's little Cindy's hand crafted, crooked, lumpy ceramic masterpiece for Dad. I'm more after Cindy – so to speak...

Early Sunday Morning - by Edward Hopper
Early Sunday Morning - by Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper is again a great example. His sidewalks are smooth and rounded, his “brick” walls are actually one tonal colour with no lines or brick divisions. Hopper uses our collective memory and familiarity with “brick walls” and his masterly use of colour to tell us it is brick. He can then draw us in to focus elsewhere.

2. Retain an organic final look and feel.

Photo - Robert Mondoux
Photo - Robert Mondoux

This is a subjective issue for different artists. While I try to keep loose with grass, or clouds, in my workflow I use rulers and tools to transcribe the structures onto canvas, but then very purposefully paint them in free-handed. I've found that this gives me a more human and natural illustrative feel to the final image.

 

 

Walk Around - by Robert Mondoux
Walk Around - by Robert Mondoux

Even if at a distance it seems straight, you can approach and see the wavy curve and flow of those straight lines. This gives the organic value I want, and also feels more accurate to me. After all, any older building is starting to warp and curve. The foundations move. The window sills sag. As do we all 🙂

Hahaha... Okay, while you’re painting, do you always stick to a specific effect or mood that you had in mind from the start, or do you sometimes deviate along the way?
RM: Great question, Mark. Once I've chosen one of my photos to paint, I usually will have thought about it for a long time. I either have the “chosen element” already in the shot, or have readied myself to create a specific effect or look to it.

That said, God bless happy accidents. Do not dismiss that wrong flick of your wrist, that smudged line of colour. After swearing at your blue streak, step back and take a long look at it. Take that “error” deep inside you and search for its own beauty, and let that beauty guide you to it's surrounding and supporting design. Or, hey, just paint over it.

You normally paint on wooden-frame canvases of 20” X 16” (50.8cm X 40.6cm). Why and how did you decide on this particular size?
RM: I began my paintings on small little 5” x 8” boards, just to initiate myself into what paint and brushes do exactly. These little boards really helped me explore strokes and colour and contours. After that I moved up incrementally to 8”x10” and 12” x 14” or so, then finally settled on a 20” by 16” size. It suits my work space and my level of detail/abstraction for now.

I've been told to paint larger pieces, as they might be more marketable, but I think you should stick to what grabs you, and what feels comfortable. You will evolve towards other things eventually anyway.

We really like the black borders you add to each painting – it makes them ready-to-hang. Where did you get this idea from?

Late Lamp - by Robert Mondoux
Late Lamp - by Robert Mondoux

RM: Ah yes, the black borders. I have gotten equal amounts of praise and grief for those. They are painted on as part of the finished image – like the borders in a magazine or a poster.

My first images included this as an afterthought. It probably comes from my graphic design background – where the image and it's surroundings have equal weight. Then I found that I liked it very much and it became a sort of signature element in my paintings.

I also play with the border depending on the image. My own pieces are almost always black but, instinctively, my commissioned works veer toward coloured borders, if any. I also use the border in order to sometimes omit the frame edge entirely on one or two sides – usually toward the sky, so as to “open up” the cage on that side and let the image flow outward.

Ok Bob, we have to ask: what's with all the street lamps?
RM: Yes Mark, I loooove street lamps! Not quite sure why, but I think that visually, they have a protective embrace over the city street.

Dusk Lamp - by Robert Mondoux
Dusk Lamp - by Robert Mondoux

They hover above and watch over us. They can be comforting when they work or disturbing, like when they're smashed or defective. They can turn on too early and have a dim warm glow across dusk skies, or they cast long tentacled shadows over blistering summer streets. What's not to love!?

We love the two paintings of Malmö we commissioned from you! If any of our readers would like to have paintings of their cities created, what would they have to do? 
RM: Well, first they would have to like my paintings 🙂

Then they can contact me through the email address on my website at http://robertmondouxpaintings.yolasite.com/ .

After that, we'll talk...

Black & White Sky - by Robert Mondoux
Black & White Sky - by Robert Mondoux

 

Well, thanks for your time, Bob. It's been truly amazing to find out how your mind works when it comes to your artwork. Just a little bit scary as well. 🙂
RM: Thanks. I think. But yes, thank you again for inviting me to your site.

 

*Follow the links to see city art by the artists that that Bob was talking about earlier:

http://www.edwardhopper.net/images/paintings/manhattan-bridge-loop.jpg

http://www.metroframe.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/13.12.LincolnTunnelVentilationTower.24x30.jpg

http://saimg-a.akamaihd.net/saatchi/656354/art/2159478/1218143-7.jpg

morning-malmo-robert-mondoux
Morning Malmö - by Robert Mondoux

So, what do you think? Do you have a cool image from your city that you'd like to see on canvas?

Leave us a comment, and get in touch with Bob through his website...

We're always keen to get your thoughts on our articles and interviews.

Thanks for reading.

Enjoy your life in the city.

9 thoughts on “Robert Mondoux – Painter

  1. Great to see Bob featured on your site Mark. His work has been an inspiration to me and has benefited my "seeing" as well.

    It was nice to read about the process and his insights truly reflect the final result. It is my hope that many more people around the globe get to know the name Robert Mondoux and your interview is indeed a step in the right direction 🙂

    Oh and Bob...Cindy wants her "Best Daddy" mug back!!!

    Lyle

    Reply
  2. Hi Mark I think your interview with Bob was very thorough and informative. It gives readers an insight into who he is and what drives him to do such creative work. I think this interview would benefit you in the long run where success is concerned. Great stuff. Keep it up.

    Reply
    1. Post author

      Hey Serana!

      Thanks for your comment. I was really pleased with Bob's answers as well. I find it fascinating how people's minds work during any creative process.

      I really appreciate you dropping by for s visit. Do come again sometime. I'll put the coffee on. 😉

      Reply
  3. Tanya

    Hi there,

    This is a great article on Robert Mondoux. Great artist. I love how you incorporated your conversation with Robert. He does great artwork but ads his own touch to each painting.

    I like where he explains the reasons behind the sizes of his paintings. The more wider than tall is the way the world see's things, but because of his height he's see's things differently. So unique! Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    1. MarkBase

      Post author

      Hi Tanya,

      Yes, Bob sure does have a unique way of looking at things!

      Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated

      Reply
  4. Alissa

    Excellent site. I especially enjoyed your lightheartedness and witty energy in being an artist. Sometimes artist can come across too serious. Layout and use of imagery is very enticing. My personal favorite is the city photography. Your friend Bob's art is outstanding.
    One question, did you intend for no "home" page on your menu? No complaints, i like it just as it is 🙂

    Reply
    1. MarkBase

      Post author

      Thanks for visiting, and for your kind words. I haven't fully developed the final structure of the site yet, so I'm not sure if I'll go for a 'Home' link. We'll see

      Reply

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