Painting by Jean Labourdette aka Turf One

Photo: Marielle Quesney

Jean Labourdette (better know by some as Turf One) is an artist who lives and works in Montreal. He’s a painter and sometimes filmmaker with his wife Marielle Quesney. Recently the camera was turned on him by fellow artist & filmmaker Pablo Aravena. The result is the short documentary titled “Shining Darkness: A Portrait of Jean Labourdette”.It’s a very interesting profile that gives a glimpse into Jean’s life and art making. Intrigued, I corresponded with Jean with a few more questions of my own.

When did you move to Quebec? Moving your whole life to the other side of an ocean is a very big commitment and pretty stressful in lots of ways.

I moved from Paris to Montreal in 2001. I had been wanting to leave Paris and France for a while, and after setting my mind on Montreal, I started preparing for the big move for almost a year, getting my visa in order and such. But still, when it comes down to actually physically leaving your family, friends and the place you always called home, no matter how prepared you think you are, it gets tough!!

I got here in the fall/winter of 2001 and it was pretty intense, cold and lonely. I eventually built my life here, I have a wife and a son. I still miss some aspects of France, of course, but Montreal is now my home.

When did you start exploring the use of found materials in your work?

Very early on. I started my artistic path with graffiti, in the late eighties. That led me to explore a lot of abandoned buildings and derelict urban structures. These became the canvas for my work. In the same spirit, I started collecting found objects in those abandoned spaces, and eventually started painting on them too!

Painting by Jean Labourdette aka Turf One

Have you ever thought about extending the world you create for your characters further out into the gallery?

Do you mean by doing more 3-dimensional works and installations? Yes, I have. I have some pretty ambitious projects of immersive art installations, but I’ll keep those secret until they actually happen (If they ever do! …ahah).

You often utilizes a nice blending of shallow and deep visual depth in your work. A figure will have a face painted very realistically and have arms and legs completely flat and elongated. Did your early interest with comic strips inspire this approach?

Absolutely. My sense of drawing and proportions was always very much inspired by comics and cartoons. My main focus during my graffiti years was to do “cartoon realism”. To turn cartoon characters into flesh by rendering them realistically. I think what I do today is still an extension of the same obsession, only more subtle.
Painting by Jean Labourdette aka Turf One

I’ve heard you some times ask people to pose for your paintings. Are they usually friends?

Not always. A lot of them are friends of mine. Some are friends of friends who have what it takes to become one of my characters and some are just strangers with great faces. Whoever I paint, whether I know the person or not, becomes a character in the play I direct. I use models as a director uses actors. They become someone else for the purpose of the story being told.

When you do a show in Montreal, I’m guessing the people whom you have painted often attend the opening. To me that would almost feel surreal as a viewer.  As if the painting had come to life. Do you ever see people doing double-takes at the openings when the model is in the room?

Ha Ha, yes there can definitely be a “Twilight Zone” kind of vibe going on. Especially with some of my models who already look very surreal in real life.

It would be interesting to go to an opening and there be every person from every painting in the gallery dressed as they were in the painting. It would almost have a performance aspect to it.

Not a bad idea! Maybe I’ll steal it.

Painting by Jean Labourdette aka Turf One

You’ve mentioned viewing yourself as playing the same role as a director for a movie. Have you ever considered setting the painting aside briefly and trying your hand at film making?

Actually, yes, I have. I co-directed with my wife, Marielle Quesney, adocumentary about the Parisian catacombs 10 years ago, and I am currently working on a TV show project based on my characters.

What are some of your favorite films?

Hard to say. There are so many. I have favourite movies in each genre.

But let’s name a few randomly:

The Good, The Bad,  And The Ugly

The Meaning of Life

Barton Fink

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Alice (by Jan Svankmajer)

Brain Dead  

Les Tontons Flingueurs

Black Cat White Cat 


Painting by Jean Labourdette aka Turf One

You’re also a tattooist. I’d think it would take a very different mindset when tattooing as opposed to painting. One can be a very solitary form of expression and the other inherently social.

I am very new at being a tattoo artist. I have been getting tattooed for 20 years but actually only started tattooing as of last summer. I actually got started for the exact reason you’re mentioning: to try to create a balance and have some sort of social interaction in my work on a part-time basis. Rather than being always alone in my studio and in my head every day of the week.

You have a family of your own. Is it challenging to balance home life with studio time?

Definitely, but it also creates a structure. Otherwise I would get lost in my work and sort of loose touch with reality. So those limitations are probably good for me, in the end.

Painting by Jean Labourdette aka Turf OnePainting by Jean Labourdette aka Turf One