The IlluStraightors, Part 2: Mark Atomos Pilon
It's been quite a time lag since the first installment of this series, which featured Josué Menjivar.
Part of the reason for that is my next subject, Mark 'Atomos' Pilon, took several months to get back to me about a possible interview. He works endless hours here and at home, plus he just had a baby (congrats!).
The interview was done in bits and pieces but has all finally come together. (And it's a nice tie-in as the lead arts feature in this week's issue is about a retrospective by a former Straight illustrator Rand Holmes.)
Anyhow, it's done and here for your viewing pleasure.
Get to know all about artist and GS staffer Mark 'Atomos' Pilon, the man with no third eye but a third nipple, who often illustrates the health column and illustrates some of our covers as well.
Who are you and what are you doing here on this planet?
My name is Mark Pilon, some people call me Atomos. I’m a painter, illustrator and design-guy. Right now I’m living in Vancouver’s Chinatown with my wife and three kids.
Where did you get the Atomos moniker from?
I was doing some research for an art project in 1991 that was based on atoms molecules and bowling. In my research I found the Greek name atomos in a Walt Disney book called "Our friend the ATOM". It means indivisible or the smallest possible object. I liked the idea of taking on an alias for my work. Mystery and science are a good working combination.
How long have you worked for the Straight?
This is my tenth year here as a designer and resident illustrator.
Did you experience any culture/climate shock moving from Manitoba to the West Coast?
When I moved here in 1989 I wasn’t aware that Vancouver didn’t have a “real” winter. No more 40 below for me. I think a lot of people have figured this out. It would explain the big migration of people here lately and the crazy housing problem.
What are some of your primary influences and inspirations (artists, movements, etc.)?
I’ve always been interested in the graphic arts of the fifties and sixties. They always used the best colours and lines. I love the work of Gene Dietch, Mary Blair, BC Binning, and Jim Flora. That's my short list.
How did your trademark cycloptic style develop? Was it because you only had one eye but used your third nipple to see out of or something like totally freaky and cool like that?
I left art school and took a year off to paint. I really felt that I needed some time to develop the ideas that were running around in my head. Pop-art wasn’t an accepted “style” in art school. I knew when I walked away from Emily Carr College that I had made a good decision. It’s paid off, my work is all over the world and I like what I’m painting. Even if it’s not institutional art.
Do you draw solely on computer now, or do you do any of your illustrations by hand?
I start with a rough sketch but most of the magic happens in the computer. I redraw everything and repaint it. Editorial illustration is done primarily on the computer. A majority of the work is still hand painted in acrylic.
What things have you learned from illustrating Gail Johnson’s health column every week?
I have learned a wealth of health information. I highly recommend everyone read Gail’s column. This week I learned that a toothbrush is a filthy object.
What has been the most challenging health column that you have had to illustrate? How about the grossest thing?
Female Hysteria was the most challenging. The grossest thing? Syphilis, definitely.
How often do you produce paintings?
I do them in small groups about once a month. I really have to plan for painting because my technique is so time consuming. A single painting usually takes about twenty hours and two rolls of masking tape to produce. It’s a messy job.
What kinds of things have you been painting recently?
I’m doing some fashion inspired work for a show at La Luz de Jesus Gallery in L.A. I’m also in a group show in Las Vegas and continuing my porthole series for a book.
Where have you recently exhibited your work?
I recently showed in Los Angeles and Chicago. Most of my shows are in the U.S. at the moment. Not a lot of demand for graphics art in Canada unfortunately. Vancouver is vacuum chamber for institutional art. If you’re not hooked up with the Canada Arts Council you’re in deep doo-doo. That’s why a lot of Vancouver artist are doing well elsewhere.
Tell us about the time you spent operating Moon Base Gallery. Do you miss it all?
I opened the Moon Base Gallery with my wife Jodi back in 1997. We decided to close after a five year run and total exhaustion. We had a lot of fun showing some of our favorite artists and having some of the more fun art openings in town. I always regret walking away from that project but this city really can’t sustain small galleries. Not without a hell of a lot of financial sacrifice and long hours.
What is the weirdest thing anyone has said to you about your work?
I have a lot of people tell me their kids can paint better than me. I’m okay with that.
What musical genres do you currently listen to? What’s on your play list these days?
I love electronic music from the sixties. Jean Jacques Perrey, Gershon Kingsly, Dick Hyman, and Wendy Carlos. Moog music gets a lot of play on my iPod.
I won an award last July for Best Feature Illustration at the Western Magazine Awards. This was the first year I didn’t make it to the ceremony due to the birth of my new son. To my surprise I actually won so I wasn’t even there to accept.
What would be your dream project?
I’m looking at some animation projects at the moment. That would be interesting. I think my dream project would be to do a full on “Paul Frank” and paste my creatures on everything and anything I can possible imagine.