Dom Laporte is an Ottawa-based artist whose work explores the limits of portraiture through a combination of traditional painting and mixed-media methods. Laporte believes that portraiture has a unique ability to transcend the artist’s individual voice—whether he’s painting a respected personality in the local hip hop community or someone he met while travelling in India, a single face can evoke a wide range of themes, emotions, and cultural backgrounds. In this way, his work is a celebration and an embodiment of the diverse identities and life experiences that he encounters.
Laporte has exhibited his work in solo, collaborative, and group exhibitions for nearly a decade, with shows in Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver, and Barcelona. As an honours graduate of Sheridan College’s Bachelor of Illustration, he was awarded first place in the James Lee Foundation’s annual National Art and Design Competition. He was also a national finalist at Art Battle Canada in 2017, a live speed painting competition. He is currently the “Art Chaos Block” Art Coordinator for Ottawa’s annual Glow Fair Festival.
Recently, Laporte has focused on large-scale mural projects for clients including The Canadian Museum of Science & Technology, Beau’s Brewery, The Toronto Raptors, OSICO (Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization), Adidas, and the City of Ottawa Light Rail Transit Project. His interest and experience in portraiture lends his large-scale projects an intimacy that emerges from his interest in connecting with the people and places that he portrays. Laporte’s work has always been inspired by his direct surroundings—mural painting pushes this practice further by encouraging experimentation with new style combinations that best reflect the built environments and dynamic communities of each mural’s distinct location.
How did you start out in the arts? Is art-making something you’ve been doing since you were young?
Yeah, when I was a kid, I always painted … My mom always gave me the time to paint and draw and just make stuff.
And she’s an artist?
That’s right, she’s a painter too.
I had no problem playing by myself when I was a kid and kind of got lost in my imagination. I feel like everyone starts out painting or drawing, but then they lose it as they get older. I feel like I just never lost it, but that’s largely attributed to my parents and my family allowing me to do art.
Did you ever go to art camps?
I went to one, Gigis at Ottawa U. It was a sculpture camp.
At the camp, I did papier mâché and stuff like that. I was super into that when I was little. I would make weird sculptures out of felt and spoons and all kinds of crazy stuff [laughs]. If you went to my parents’ house, you’d find all kinds of crazy shit.
So, they kept all your stuff?
Are we ever going to see a Dom exposition of childhood artwork?
[laughs] Yeah, the retrospective will all be embarrassing stuff. Some of the things I made was just like, What? Why? What is this? Literally a wooden spoon with a face on it, a 15th-century hat, and doilies. It was just the weirdest stuff.
Is there any correlation between your childhood work and now? Do you ever look at your old work and think, Oh my gosh, I was doing this when I was like, ten?
Yeah, I actually have these [shows multiple colourful drawings of ducks]
Oh my god.
These are the best things I still have. This is from when I was maybe four years old. My mom said I sat down all day and drew ducks. They’re all ducks. I actually wanted to make a book of these. It’s so weird and funny! They’re all the same orientation.
Were you tracing something? Do you remember doing this?
No, not at all.
What a trip.
I know! I must have been so young when I did these.
I remember when I was in class when I was really young, I used to do my homework so fast and probably improperly just so I could go to the painting easel. I would paint butterflies over and over.
Yeah, I know! What is it with the obsession?
My drawings weren't as cool as yours.
That’s really awesome that your parents pushed you. Was it mainly your mom or your dad as well?
It was both, my mom just happened to be the visual artist. My dad was into music and always allowed us to play, and played with us too. We had a good childhood.
And your brother’s an artist?
Yeah, he’s also a painter and graffiti artist. My sister is also artistically inclined, she used to be a visual merchandiser.
Do you think that everyone has a creative side to them, but it just doesn’t get nurtured?
100%. I think some people are told that they’re creative when they’re in school especially. There are the kids that “can draw” and “can’t draw.” They’re put into different categories. I was always the kid in class who could draw. But I feel like that type of thing affects you as you get older ... some people aren’t given that designation when they’re young, so they feel like they can’t be artistic when they’re older. They feel like that can’t be their “path.”
And also, not being provided with the tools that you need to succeed. Even as a kid, being provided with materials is so important to creative growth.
Exactly, yeah. My mom just happened to have a studio. Some stuff I wasn’t allowed to use, like her nice paints. She wouldn’t let me touch her brushes [laughs] She would just give me a massive box of pencil crayons and markers and a big pad of paper to go to town on.
That’s great. So, where would you say you draw inspiration from - for your work now?
I guess, mainly from the trips I’ve been going on. So, it’s travel-based. I used to focus on more iconic people or people that are known in popular culture. But in the last few years, it’s the everyday person, or just people Anais and I meet while we’re traveling that I find most interesting.
My last exhibition was about the people I met while in India and I’m currently working on a portrait from a woman in the Philippines [gestures to a work-in-progress] That’s based on a photo I took in the Philippines. I guess I’m using travel as a way to inform the work. But I kind of want to have a series based in Ottawa. I don’t have to go somewhere to be inspired to make a painting. I think it’s just people in general that I’m interested in. What they look like, what they’re wearing.
So, did you study painting and illustration formally?
Yeah, I studied Illustration at Sheridan.
Because when I first met you way back when it was in Montreal, right?
Yeah, it was. I went to Concordia for a year. I didn’t like it … Concordia was too conceptual, and a lot of people in my class were first-time painters. I wanted to focus more on improving my technical skills, so I went to Sheridan.
And how long was that?
Four years. It was a degree program. I learned a lot … a lot more foundation as well as the business side of things, like how to write a contract. The actual practical side of making a living as an artist, you know?
I felt like my undergrad kind of lacked that. We worked a lot more on building conceptual projects as opposed to the practical.
That’s important too, of course…building a concept. But yeah.
At the end of the day, you have to know how to make a living as an artist, and after school that can feel very difficult.
Yes, you can feel kind of lost after school. You’re left out in the wilderness [laughs]
Exactly. So, tell me about your artistic process. Do you sketch first?
I usually don’t even start with pencil; I just go straight in with paint. I’ll build up layers. Right now, I’m trying to do more transparency with lots of layers. It’s never just like, Ok, this is going to be the skin tone, I’m going to lay that in right now, and I’m done. I don’t really have a strategy when painting, or a formula. It’s definitely a feeling-thing. Nothing is ever really done…
A lot of my artist friends have talked about that. Knowing when to stop is a skill in and of itself. In your opinion, when is an artwork successful?
I think what makes a piece of work successful to me is different than a piece of work being well received or deemed ‘successful’ to the public or viewer. My work is successful when I’ve created something that I had the intention of creating, and achieved the technical standard I wanted, whereas that same artwork could be deemed successful based on its emotional impact on someone and not so much the technique.
Can you talk a little bit about one of your most recent projects or exhibitions?
The project I am most caught up in at the moment is a large mural contract for the Garry J. Armstrong long term care home here in Ottawa. I’m currently halfway through painting 6 murals inside the Dementia ward in the care home. It’s been challenging on many levels while painting but highly rewarding as well. The resident’s appreciation and understanding of the work is incredible. I rarely have had to paint a mural as a way to help with someone’s quality of life, so I’m grateful I got the opportunity to take on this project.
That sounds like an incredibly meaningful project, but also quite challenging. What would you say is the biggest challenge you face with your work overall?
Making sure I’m producing quality work and always in pursuit of getting better. Sometimes the drive isn’t there, and the challenge to work through that resistance can be brutal.
Do you work with other artists in Ottawa and elsewhere?
I collaborate with a few artists here in Ottawa, mostly on murals and during the Glowfair festival. The only person I collaborate on canvas or fine artwork is my brother Phil, who is an incredible artist. We collaborated on a solo show that was exhibited at #Hashtag Gallery in Toronto in 2016. Another notable collaborator is a good friend and amazing artist Juan Carlos Noria, based out of Spain. Lastly, a shout out to my friend and mural artist that I collaborate with a lot, Dan Metcalfe.
I’ve always found it a bit difficult to collaborate or work in group projects myself. You can gain a lot from working with others, but you also lose a sense of total control over the project … But if you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Of course, I could name any number of famous/well-renowned artists that I admire but I would truly love to collaborate with any member of the HVW8 Collective, especially Dan Buller. I would also like to collaborate with Monk.E or En Masse, both individual and group out of Montreal.
If you could paint any person (past or present) who would you choose and why?
This is totally a lame answer but to be the first person to do Banksy’s portrait would probably turn some heads.
So, to talk a little bit about the Internet ... do you think that presenting work online (as opposed to a gallery or any other art institution) is the best place to showcase artistic work or do works need to be seen in “the flesh” to be fully appreciated and experienced?
I think viewing artwork in person is vital to experiencing the work at its best, whether it’s a painting or sculpture, the scale can only really be understood in the flesh. The problem with having social media make up the world in which we view artwork is that the format is the same for everything. A 10-story mural and a landscape painted on a grain of rice are viewed in the same way, stripping the artwork of its value and creating nonsensical comparisons of people’s artwork.
I agree. I’ve personally felt myself catering my work to the Instagram format, and it doesn’t always work. For that reason, I make a real effort to go out to shows happening in Ottawa so I can see artworks in the flesh and be inspired again. On that note, do you have an on-going list of your favorite artist(s)?
Andrew Salgado, Tim Okamura, Jose Parla, Augustine Kofie, Enrique Grau Araujo, Etam Cru, Aryz, Fintan Mcgee..This is a mix of fine artists, graffiti writers, muralists. Not including any of the old masters but obviously just as important to look at and study.
And what’s your dream studio set up?
Any high ceiling space with great light and preferably in the country/within nature.
That sounds like the dream! Do you have any (travel) plans in the spring? Are you going to escape Canadian winter?
My plan for the new year is to take off and travel South-East Asia for 4 months with my girlfriend. I’m hoping to lock down a few murals while I’m gone and have every intention of creating a full body of work in that time, possibly focusing on more illustrative work and drawings, since I’ll be living out of a backpack.
That’s interesting, it’ll be great to see what you produce overseas. Last but not least, what advice would you give to your fellow artists/for those starting out?
Create. Just make things, experiment, try different mediums, explore your interests, make a bunch of shit. The last thing you should worry about when you’re young or starting out is getting a gallery show, getting published, selling work, etc. make what you want and don’t be upset when you make mistakes. At the same time, learn the business that you’re getting yourself into. This can and should be a very separate process to the actual creation of your artwork. Also, Art school isn’t for everyone. It can help you or hinder your creative process. Just my two cents.
Interview and imagery by Yuli Sato