When we met Wolfe Girardin, we were immediately impressed by his passion, curiosity, and dedication. Naturally, we asked him to sit down for an interview so we could hear more about his diverse body of work and how it has been influenced by the skateboarding world. Wolfe is a refreshingly open and honest person with a big heart and we have been grateful to be able to call him a true homie ever since.
Wolfe is a twenty-one year old artist living in the Côte-de-Neiges neighborhood of Montréal, where he has lived for most of his life. He got into skateboarding right before starting high school when he was eleven years old (high school starts when you’re twelve in Quebec). Wolfe says he’s been skating ever since, but a bit less in the last four or five years.
“I don’t skate as much because I just never really got that good at it and it got frustrating at some point. I just never got into tricks or whatever, but I love it — I love seeing people do it. I love coming along skate trips and whatever… I just made a lot of friends that skateboarded. They were the only people I could really relate to.”
For Wolfe, skateboarding and the culture that surrounds it have had a constant influence on his life, even when skating wasn’t his main focus. He is a testament to the magnetic energy that the skate community, as an emergent culture, creates for those souls sitting on the edge of society. Skateboarding became an outlet for Wolfe to express an inclination to rebel and question authority and it helped him gravitate toward a group of people who thought like him.
Wolfe has always been a very creative person and immediately began collaborating with the other artistic people he was surrounding himself with. At fourteen, he started playing in a punk band called Radical Left as the singer and bassist, which he did until he was eighteen. Right in the middle of playing in the band, Wolfe created his own company, Visual Pollution, which serves as a platform to showcase his various artistic endeavors and collaborations, which range from illustrations, to murals, to videoand finally t-shirt designs. In fact, Wolfe says that his idea for Visual Pollution came from designing t-shirts for friends in high school.
“Drawing I started super young, when I could hold a pencil I started drawing. So I’ve been doing that forever and Visual Pollution actually started because when I was like sixteen or so I was drawing a lot. Everybody liked my drawings and stuff at school and then some people asked me to draw on shirts, so I started doing custom drawings on people’s shirts.”
On the site, Wolfe describes why he chose the name “Visual Pollution”:
“‘Visual Pollution’ is an assertive reappropriation of a term commonly used to describe graffiti and other ‘low-brow’ art. Snatching this idiom and using it proudly to encompass our form of art is a small part of a larger attempt to disarm and educate those who don’t dig it on the sole basis of prejudice.”
One of the most recent projects on Visual Pollution was an exhibition called Escape Bored, where Wolfe and some of his homies redesigned old skateboards into sick pieces of art. Wolfe was able to get a diverse group of artists together to work on the boards so that each piece had its own unique style, like each board was its own little world.
“I have so many skilled and talented friends in all sorts of arts, but it was cool to put it all on the same surface and bring everything together to make a series. We painted on skateboards because most of my friends have all skated at one point or they all skate now, and its just a culture we all appreciate. It goes in the same category with graffiti and all that, kinda low-brow culture and low-brow art and whatever. Skate art is pretty similar — it’s not, like, high-end — its for the people, for the community, and that’s what’s important to me is that its for the people.”
Wolfe’s “for the people” attitude towards art is apparent in other works on the site, which tend to deal with current social and political issues. Wolfe says a lot of his inspiration comes from the news and events going on around him.
“I try to think of something thats actual but that’s not gonna go out of style too fast, or that’s just, like, important enough that people will want to keep wearing it even if it has passed — like the Jean Charest shirt, for example. That was obviously super ‘of the moment’ because it was during his campaign and during the [2012 student] protests and everything, but I figured people are always going to remember it because it was such a huge moment in Quebec history, so I decided to make it. Usually for my shirts, I like to make fun of people or of a certain situation and try to be clever about it… respectfully.”
Sometimes, says Wolfe, his politically-driven work gets mixed reception, such as this shirt he made of the late leader of the Canadian New Democratic Party, Jack Layton, that says “MY PRIME MINISTER IS DEAD.”
“Yeah, that one got mixed feelings. Some people love it and other people felt like it was a little harsh ‘cause they are sad about it. It’s kind of an in your face statement but I think overall it’s successful because I want it to be shocking. I’m definitely into controversy with my work; I want people to be taken aback. I think that ties into theskate culture as well as the punk culture, just kind of get people uncomfortable a little bit. Hahaha.”
However, as a studio arts major at Concordia University, Wolfe also does some more personal work outside of the Visual Pollution brand. Lately, he has been working more on that type of expression and has been trying to decide if the two, himself as an individual artist and Visual Pollution, should even be separated.
“Right now, I am focusing a bit more on my ‘art side’, I guess I’d call it. I am in painting at school so I have been doing a lot of painting and writing, like poetry. For a while, actually, I feel like I wasn’t allowing myself to do that stuff. I was like, ‘No, Visual Pollution is like this and so I gotta be focusing on this and doing like satirical things or whatever.’ But I have this whole other side of me thats not being expressed — like this whole other serious side that I feel like I need to focus on as well. Its more therapeutic, in a way.”
Nevertheless, since Wolfe is a social person and likes working with people, he says he will always love the collaborative nature of Visual Pollution. So, he sees himself continuing with both sides of his artistic expression, depending on what he’s inspired by at the time. Indeed, what we have realized with the creation of Get Born is the importance of collaboration and keeping your artistic expression free from being boxed into any one particular category. We are inspired by each person we meet and interview, and are grateful for the way they have helped shape our own creative journey.