There are two ways to deal with heartbreak: wallow in the pain or find a way to distract yourself. In the case of artist Andrew Moncrief, he chose the latter. Last fall, during negotiations for his first solo exhibition, he found his three-year relationship dissolving. Instead of letting the breakup distract him from his work, he chose the opposite approach.
“I ended up working in the studio like a crazy person,” he says from his home in Montreal. “I had this huge void in my life because this person was no longer there, and it just fuelled me to fly into my work. I was spending over 40 hours a week painting, trying to sublimate all the emotions I was going through.”
The series of 12 large-scale works that resulted marks somewhat of a shift for the recent Concordia graduate. Though Moncrief continues to focus on depicting the human face in often unsettling and unattractive ways, he’s moved away from working exclusively with self-portraits, something he started doing during school because he couldn’t afford models.
He began the project in earnest last July, with a Facebook call for guys interested in being photographed.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing when I first started shooting, but I knew if I did it over and over, eventually it would make sense,” he says. “I wanted to move away from depicting only myself, but I also knew I wanted to work specifically with the male figure and with gay men for the project. I didn’t realize it at first, but I was still creating this sort of self-portrait, but through projecting myself onto the subjects I was working with.”
Over a six-month period, he shot approximately 30 people, mostly friends and friends of friends. His longtime fascination with medical archive images of facial deformities led him gradually to explore having his subjects manipulate their faces in unusual ways for the camera.
“With all the stuff that was happening in my relationship, I started to feel like there was something eating away at me from inside my head,” he says. “Like something was actually making me uglier on the outside. I had all this insecurity and torment going on, and sometimes I was looking in the mirror and I couldn’t see myself for who I really was. I started to think about these things that were eating away at me manifesting on the exterior somehow, like a scar or a wound, making visible the interior struggle.”
The exhibition’s title came late in the process. Moncrief admits that’s something he struggles with: “Making the work is the easy part. Coming up with a name for it is hard.” The pressure of it being his first solo outing as a professional artist, combined with the emotional weight attached to its creation, made it extra difficult. He tossed around numerous possibilities with a friend, mostly variations of “breakdown,” before finally arriving at De/Generate.
“There were always these elements of deterioration and decay within the work and within me through the process,” he says. “I kept trying to think of something that would capture both that sense of falling apart but also the rebuilding that went along with it. There was a lot of shitty emotional baggage I left behind while I was working on this project. But I’m feeling amazing now — 2014 has been a pretty fantastic year so far.”