What do Einstein, Bob Marley, Spike Lee, Mona Lisa and Eddie Murphy all have in common? Aside from the obvious of being legendary and having made significant creative contributions to our lives and the world, they are just a few of the subjects, of the eminent portraits by Mony Zakhour.
Although always drawing and sketching as a child, painting didn’t always come naturally to Mony Zakhour. In fact, during our recent interview, he shared his struggle with painting.
“I could never get it…It just wasn’t working. I’d have a blank canvas and try to throw colours on it. It just wasn’t coming together.
WLLNTTZ: How long have you been painting?
“I always loved drawing and was into the arts as a kid. It was before I went away to Japan, it was months before I went away”. “Even though I was into art, I never learned the history of art or was ‘into’ the Picasso’s or Van Gogh’s”.
“In 2009, I was sharing a condo with my girlfriend and two of my cousins, working at the liquor store. “I just wasn’t happy, so I took a summer course, Basic Drawing and Painting at the University of Nova Scotia College of Arts & Design (NSCAD)”.
While completing a year of business school, Mony admitted he wasn’t committed. He would leave at lunch, arrive late, and daydream about the artworks of the artist Justin Bua, an American artist from New York City’s Upper West Side.
“I loved his colours, how he would accentuate the hands and or face. I tried copying one of his pieces using charcoal and gave it to friends as a gift. They were blown away and that was the first time that I created something and I shared it”.
I taught myself how to use the method of dark to light technique. I painted a piece on Bob Marley, and I worked the paint from dark to light using different shades of greys to create depth and dimension.
“It was literally like going from night, to day and I just kept getting better and better”.
Creating portraits influenced by Justin Bua, Mony used his new methodology and developed his love of painting and his love of portraiture. Bua, also a graffiti writer was influenced by the raw, visceral street life of the city. Similarly, Mony shares the same love of city and art influenced by streets and city of Toronto,
“His paintings, were something I could Identify with, the urban art, lifestyle and culture”.
Throughout our many conversations, it is apparent that Mony lives and breathes for the city and people. Whether its grabbing a double shot of espresso and walking the city streets, to hearing a dj spin, a live band play, or attending a gallery event, his love for community also carries through.
An example of this comes to mind in a story he shared with us. After experiencing ongoing chest pain he finally turned himself into the hospital only to find out he had Pericarditis. Pericarditis is a swelling and irritation of the pericardium, the thin sac-like membrane that surrounds your heart. Causing severe chest pain.
“I dealt with the pain and thought it would go away, but it didn’t subside. Finally I went to the hospital. I was in the cardiology department receiving treatment and I shared my room in the hospital with three older men. There was one particular gentleman in his early 80’s. He had open heart surgery. Growing up in a large Lebanese family, I had a lot of people coming in to visit me, and sadly, he didn’t have too many visitors”.
“One day, I was working on a charcoal drawing project for the class I was taking while in my bed. That day he watched me, and then he requested to have his own portrait drawn. A survivor of 3 heart surgeries, it was a big time in his life and he wanted to remember it. He came over the next day at 11:00 AM. He sat at the foot of my bed with the biggest smile on his face, his hair was combed nicely and he looked so happy. So excited to be drawn”.
Mony shares this milestone in his life and how honoured he was to have been able to make someone so happy and this added value to his desire to continue portraiture.
Born and raised in Halifax Nova Scotia, Mony and his girlfriend first moved to Toronto 3 years ago.
Wllnttz: What brought you to Toronto?
“My girlfriend of 7 years who was born and raised in Toronto”.
They met, while Mony was vacationing in Toronto, survived 2 years of long distance. She then moved to Halifax to live with him for a year and despite the fact that they both moved to Japan for year, they were 10 hours apart. It was in Japan, where Mony worked on a collection of 13 paintings. He painted urban landscapes, shapes, streets, and portraits. Moved by the culture, he found he was welcomed, lovingly embraced and his artwork was well-respected.
Mony, magnetized by the big city life, decided to pick a permanent place to live and stick to it. Of course Toronto was his first choice.
“With so much going on here in the city, I don’t pay attention enough to what’s going on there”. Mony refers to his family back in Nova Scotia. His strong sense of caring deeply about his hometown and family and friends shine bright like a beacon.
“When I was 7 to the age of 18, I moved from Halifax to a more rural town called Digby, Nova Scotia and I grew up there on the water. A middle child and also “the favourite” in the family, he jokes, but claims he earned his right because he has always been away from the home exploring the world. We talked about the nuances between growing up in a small town versus the city and his words were.
“I’ve met so many great people in this city and I found people are just as genuine here.”
As a member of Creature Collective, Mony finds himself in his daily routine painting every morning about an hour before he heads off to his job of bartending and serving in Toronto’s financial district.
Wllnttz: Past present or future?
“Past, memories, present, getting things done…”
Wllnttz: What do you see in the future?
Happiness and success; I want people to see my work, and to appreciate and enjoy it. I want to spread that positivity”.
Wllnttz: What advice would you give to kids who want to get into art?
“Don’t get caught up with fitting in and what the norm is, find who you are”
Don’t be afraid to try art more, keep an open mind. I wish I started at a younger age, just remember, you are always learning.
As a kid himself, Mony played and loved basketball and still does. In Mony’s studio space he has a small basketball net and ball that he plays with, giving even more meaning to the following quote by Michael Jordan.
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed”. ~ Michael Jordan
This truly captures the essence of Mony Zakhour.