An Interview With Toronto's Musician-Turned-Artist Kevin Drew

Kevin Drew, 'Skid Marks of the Soul' | © Liz Gareri Photography
Kevin Drew, 'Skid Marks of the Soul' | © Liz Gareri Photography

Skid Marks of the Soul, the debut art show by the Canadian musician Kevin Drew, is all about the momentary movement of color – and, maybe, a handful of words here and there, which are just as fleeting and thus specific to the moment. While Drew may be best known as the frontman of the baroque-pop collective Broken Social Scene, he’s now also making waves in the art world. Culture Trip caught up with Drew to discuss art, the vices of modernity, and what makes Toronto such a unique city.

Just an hour before the opening night celebration, Analogue Gallery is empty, gloriously sunlit through the storefront glass panes and lazily quiet in contrast to the humming hustle and bustle of Queen Street West. Drew seems to feel great in his new capacity of an exhibiting artist – despite the anticipated ‘parting anxiety’ in case someone buys his paintings and takes them home. Impeccable white-framed canvases hang along the walls displaying laconic dabs of color play, a condensed stream of consciousness, which are occasionally accompanied by a one-liner or even a short poem. The exhibit touches upon the universal themes of love and solitude, perseverance and despair, as well as modern realities of living in an over-connected world that, at times, so badly lacks real connection.

Kevin Drew, ‘Skid Marks of the Soul’ | © Liz Gareri Photography

As much as I’d like to start our conversation with a less trivial question, I can’t help but pick on the title of the exhibit – Skid Marks of the Soul. What’s going on there?

Well, it’s something that I wanted to title my show. The skid mark is more like a stain. The drawings themselves are the movement.

How do you see your art debut, a test of the pen, or the brush, if you will, an exploratory experimentation, or rather an artist’s statement – here I am and here’s what I think.

I think everything that you do is a statement of who you are, where you are in this world, what you are currently thinking. I’ve always believed in expression of the moment, and this is just another extension of that.

I like to just get lost in making and creating it, not thinking about it. I choose the colors that I want. I approach it in a very ‘no rules’ sort of format. If I think about it, I won’t do it. So I really try to just block everything out. It’s more of a release for me, this show.

I think when you create, you obviously want people to view, to listen, to experience, so I didn’t put a lot of thought into this, I put way more feel into it.

Kevin Drew, ‘Skid Marks of the Soul’ | © Liz Gareri Photography

You refer to your exhibit as a reaction to the constant noise.

What I mean by the noise is how much options there are to be distracted by, things that are only gonna lead you away from what you are supposed to be doing in that moment.

I think there’s way too many distractions, I think there’s too much information, I think that people have become way too addicted – myself included – to information, the information that we don’t need to know. The phones have become like family members and friends, and that’s wrong… The ones who are being born right now, I think they’re gonna look at us and really laugh, cause it’s all based around connection – and we’ve become so disconnected. And I find it very sad. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, I want to change the way we look at things and relevancy, and what feeds us and what makes us feel loved. I think that we’re getting sidetracked by serotonin that doesn’t really exist.

The reason why I did the show was because I wanted something real and tangible, you had to make an effort to see and own, and this was the best I could do for the moment.

You once said that words and colors are two things that can describe the emotional state. Asking you as a musician now: how about sound?

Oh, I believe in music, conversation, everything, I was just focusing on words and colors for this. I think there’s a lot of art out there inside people and I believe everyone has the option to do and create and take risks with whatever they need, whatever fulfills them, but you do need an outlet.

And for me, music has always been an outlet, this has been an outlet, talking has been an outlet, yelling has been an outlet.

But sound, it’s almost as if it’s my first love. That’s why I am happy to be doing this show because it’s a love that I never really particularly knew that I had.

Kevin Drew, ‘Skid Marks of the Soul’ | © Liz Gareri Photography

Art is a way of telling the world something important using a different language – be it words, sounds, movements, or brush strokes. Aside from your track record in music and song-writing, you have a short film under your belt, and now an art exhibit. How was your experience transitioning between different art forms?

They all just sort of mesh into one. I’ve put down the directing for a while. It really depends on what state I am in and what I am feeling, I am inspired by my surroundings, my decisions, my choices, my regrets, my yet-to-comes. You know, I am not a doctor, I am not a scientist, I am not a soldier, I am not a chef. This is all I know, and all I know is to create. To a certain level. I am not an expert, not a pro, by all means. I just know if I have honest reactions with things, then that’s what makes me wanna keep going and doing things. It’s a personal vendetta to just be able to release.

I don’t particularly subscribe to the tension of art. My life is chaotic, and I don’t know how to live in a real world, but I definitely know how to do it in the artistic world, in a world where you’re performing, and creating, and writing, and drawing. That’s where the moment lives for me and that’s the safest place for me to be.

You say everyone can create art – but not everyone does. What inhibits the creative self-expression in many people?

They have been told they can’t. Someone told them they couldn’t do it. Because they don’t wanna express themselves that way. Perhaps, they wanna do other things that show sides of their creation. But I do know that in everything if you find yourself, you can’t stop yourself from creating. So if there are people out there that are, there are reasons why they’re stopping themselves.

I was a kid who travelled Europe and never went to an art gallery, because I looked at all the art around me, just the people in the parks, in the buildings and the graffiti. I was never a traditional kid, I loved people, I loved talking to people, learning from people, I couldn’t get it from the education system… I just think that all you have to do is go buy a piece of paper, some pencils, and see what happens. Be a master of something, and then go take risks with others.

What do you want to say to your viewer?

It’s all there for people to see. It’s not for me to explain. It’s very straight-forward and vulnerable to me.

I am a little worried about them leaving. I love these pieces, and I’ve never really sold anything like this, and I am worried. So if somebody comes and buys them, I feel like I need to know who they are, what their background is, what they do for living. And I can’t do that, I just have to let them go. And I am having separation anxiety as we speak.

I’ve always wanted people to have a sense of hope with everything that I’ve done, even in the bleak and in the dark, I’ve always wanted to have an understanding with everyone, a sense of understanding. This work is just more of an expression of that to me.

Kevin Drew, ‘Skid Marks of the Soul’ | © Liz Gareri Photography

You often talk about the vices of modernity – the unceasing digital connectedness, the death of communication… it seems that everything nowadays is happening at a finger swipe indeed. Do you think we are socially doomed to lose that human connection forever as the technology increasingly intrudes into our life?

No, there’s hope. What’s gonna happen is, other people are gonna come in and start pointing things out. I think we’re gonna need the younger generation who’s possibly being born right now to show us this is not the way to go.

I think that people are gonna realize that what they’ve done is they’ve subscribed to more corporations that they ever realized in their lives and they have sold out more than they realized in their lives. And it’s gonna take a collective force of energy and knowledge to really express this and really come to terms with this. I don’t see this happening any time soon, but I do believe in my heart that there’s gonna be a turnaround.

So there’s light…?

There’s always light. Because people always need to wake up and look up to something in front of them, and right now we’re just not supposed to.

Right now, it’s the screen of our cellphones that we look at first thing in the morning.

Yes, it’s just constant information…

It’s like with children, when they cry, we go, ‘look at the butterflies, look at the butterflies’ – that’s how we are being treated as the society.

I hope art gets value again. I think it’s really that balance that needs to be in this world.

I love Instagram, I’ve completely enjoyed it, I’ve got kicked out of it, I love seeing everybody on there, but I believe that we do need to start as humans to govern ourselves from missing out on moments that are out there right now, missing out on what a real connection is, and if we can all do that as a collective force, then something is gonna come of it. But for now, we’re in limbo, and that’s the energy that we all feel.

What is your favorite color?

Blue… Because it matches my eyes.

What is your favorite word?

Baba ghanoush. It just sounds amazing. The way it goes through your throat… Baba ghanoush.

Kevin Drew, ‘Skid Marks of the Soul’ | © Liz Gareri Photography

As a Toronto native, I am sure you would agree that Toronto is a very special city. It has many faces. It’s got this metropolitan dynamic, yet at the same time this artsy neo-hippie vibe. What do you think of the Torontonian culture? How did it impact you as a creator and as a person?

That falls down upon the people and my friends and just everyone that I’ve met here. I love the cultural aspect. When I was touring with the band, I never felt out of place because we have everybody that lives here from all kinds of countries, and that always gives you a sense of home.

It was great to grow up with the city. Not have a city grow up on itself, but actually expand, and it’s been really interesting at 40 years of age this year to see all these neighborhoods, and the movements… I think that city planners bombed, I think everybody knows they do, but I’ve met some really lovely communities here…

I think the city is easy. And I think if you can move through a town, and there are always things to do, you want to live in a city like this. We are pricing each other out, but this is what happens with expansion, and I’ve called it home for 39 years, mainly because this is what it is to me – home. I am one of those people that’s very comfortable and set in their ways when it comes to walking around and eating and dining, I’ve lived in the west end Toronto since I was 19, I grew up in the suburbs of Etobicoke, and always took the Bloor line down here, and had great friends once again I think that’s what it is. I encourage the city to keep doing what it’s doing, but let’s not price each other out here.

Skid Marks of the Soul runs until April 28, 2016 at Toronto’s Analogue Gallery

By Dasha Bosaya-Lazareva

Dasha is a Toronto-based journalist and editor. Her main interest (aside from classical literature, outdoor sports, art-house films and culinary experimentation) is exploring how we adapt to the changing realities of the modern world in the 21st century.

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