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Boy Scouts and Skeletor: Meet Daryl Vocat

BY JONATHAN

Canadian artist Daryl Vocat is a busy guy. Between running a print studio, teaching and making his own unmistakable prints, he has his hands full. Vocat’s art frequently distorts images of masculinity, reflecting shifts in contemporary society, not to mention becoming fascinating, complex works.

Vocat’s images often become subversive and self-conscious discussions, engaging with parody and irony to draw out ideas. ‘One thing I try to do is play with familiarity. I like to use images or styles of imagery that people are familiar with and by extension, play with the expectations that come with that familiarity.’

This familiarity is a clever ploy, inviting viewers with graphic images to assert a sense of comfort. ‘Hopefully once someone comes into the work, expectations are poked at a bit. I like to think I’m offering something a bit different, but also something that affects the way the original source material is viewed.’

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The end result is subtly political. ‘There are all these images surrounding us all the time suggesting “correct” modes of behaviour based on who we are, or on who other people think we should be. I think I started playing with images of masculinity as a way to try and understand how they were supposed to represent me, and why they failed, why I feel disconnected from the stories they tell.’

Of the recurring images in Vocat’s work, the most noticeable would have to be a particular icon of suburbia. ‘Much of the work I do draws upon old boy scout manuals. I grew up in that world and these books were supposed to be a reflection of my life and my stories. There was a simplicity and utopic thinking that was really appealing, a sense of optimism, but so much was also being left out, so much was just not being said’.

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Many of Vocat’s boy scouts appear, at least at first, quite wholesome, but after further investigation the viewer will realise that things are not always what they seem. ‘I felt like on the outside people viewed our troupe as model citizens or something. Case in point is that anytime we crossed borders during travel we just got sent right through. Somehow it seemed too easy knowing that there was often alcohol and fireworks at camp… there were definite pack mentality aspects to my experience. We were assholes, but we were also close friends.’

In the world of Vocat’s frenzied scouts, it is as if, embracing their ‘out-doorsy’ experience, they have gone far outside their suburban comfort zone. These boys are usually one step away from Lord of the Flies. ‘It felt like we could do anything and have it be under the guise of scouting,’ says Vocat. ‘In a way I felt really lucky our leaders gave us so much freedom … having to make decisions and problem-solve for ourselves even though we likely were not prepared for it. We were really into lighting everything we could get our hands on on fire and running around naked in the middle of the night.’

Vocat has worked with scouting imagery for nearly two decades, evolving the imagery from its graphic origins into a complex body of work. Having been in the scouts for a number of years growing up, Vocat constantly turns the experiences over in his mind as a means of unpacking assumptions of behaviour and the way society works. ‘Sometimes I get this feeling that I should really leave that imagery behind because I don’t really want to be thought of as the boy scout guy. It’s much too late for that, so I try to not be too self-conscious about it. I use it to look at so many things though, different norms on sexuality, masculinity, group dynamics…’

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Vocat is comfortable working in an array of forms, including painting, collage and sculpture, and has developed his skills in printmaking as a useful way of getting his art into the world. ‘I liked the idea of being able to have multiples and playing with repetition in different ways … I’m not sure I always succeed with [printmaking], but my thought is to work in whatever media best suits the work or ideas rather than being tied to process so much. In that way I’m reluctant to call myself a printmaker, a label which seems heavily tied to ideas of process.’

Additionally, Vocat has set up Middle Path Prints, a Toronto screen printing studio set up for teaching as well as undertaking other artistic projects. ‘It still feels early on, but it’s a place where I work on and sell my own stuff, where I can teach workshops and courses, where I can print projects for other artists, and where I will also publish printed works by other artists. It’s a multi-faceted approach to production. The idea is to use my skills and experience as a printer, an artist and a teacher to help people learn and realise projects, and to get prints into the hands of people that want them.

Middle Path Prints reflects the global trend of artists taking projects into their own hands and making them work in a commercial context, in the face of increasingly conservative arts policy and severe funding cuts. ‘Printmaking seems almost communal out of necessity because the equipment can be cumbersome to house … I figure if I need the equipment to do my own work I might as well make an effort to work with other people who are wanting to learn, or maybe don’t know how to print the projects they want themselves …There are a lot of possibilities.’

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