An interview with Gab Bois
Toying with reality: a journey through pop culture with visual artist Gab Bois
Words— Yang Shi
What started out as a boredom cure became one of the most-followed Instagram accounts—much to the amazement of the artist herself. For those who are not already familiar with Gab Bois, a self-taught Montreal-based visual artist, her photos have probably shown up on your feed and made you look twice. Clever and unconventional, she dissects elements of trend culture to create puzzling and often uneasy visuals in hopes of challenging our perception of Internet art and mass media.
But, behind all the buzz-worthy content, discipline and modesty lie at the heart of her overall practice—and much like the struggle of many young talents from the digi gen, Gab Bois is uncertain about the future and how to set her artistic endeavours on a sustainable path. As of now, she embraces every opportunity that comes her way and focuses on fine-tuning her storytelling without getting swayed by hype.
Who is Gab Bois and how did it all start?
Talking to other Instagram creatives, most of them told me that their Instagram name is a persona or alter ego. I didn't feel that way, my account is definitely who I am and how I feel on a day-to-day basis. The visuals take the audience through my thought process without me getting too personal. One day, during a university lecture, I was really bored and went home and started a series of mini collages experimenting with colours and textures—those are still on my Instagram. And that’s how Gab Bois started.
When did your posts become viral? Did you know you were onto something?
The collage got great feedback from people but that didn't become viral at first. For some reason, SZA liked this post and someone commented months later “Omg Sza liked this”— I was like how did Sza end up here?
But the first post that truly went viral was the Chanel braces. There was something with the old algorithm that made this post appear when people hit explore and made them land on my account.
What did going viral mean to you and how did you manage the momentum?
Going viral this early on was a blessing and a curse—I was (and still am) figuring myself as an artist. Looking back, my art felt very precarious— I was at the discovery stage and learned through trial and error. Struggling to find my own voice while trying to meet people’s expectations was really challenging. Is my art truly substantial or just a fad? I am very lucky and grateful to be where I am today and to see how much I’ve evolved— although many things are still a mystery to me.
I’ve been following you since your beginnings and the progress you’ve made is incredible. What makes for a good composition?
I like a picture that has an impact and speaks for itself. Being overexposed to all kinds of media all day every day, a good photo is one that stays on your mind once you close your phone. For me, that’s the best kind of pictures.
How do you use captions to add impact to your visuals?
Most of my followers are English speaking, so part of my brainstorming process is to find words that have vivid imagery attached to them.
And where do you find inspiration?
The best ideas come out of nowhere. Those are my favourite ones. As a creative exercise, I take time to write down ten ideas everyday. Of course, I don’t end up using most of them but creativity is a muscle that needs to be trained and nurtured—combined with structure and discipline.
Do you feel compelled to create?
I think I have two rhythms for concept creation. Sometimes, I have a great idea, I write it down and sleep on it. Other times, I create on a whim, especially when it comes to making props—there’s a compulsive element to it.
Which posts are you particularly proud of?
I have my personal favourites— my ultimate favourite is the high heel with the sharpie. I can’t pinpoint exactly why it’s so mesmerizing to me but there’s something in the final aesthetic that I find really engrossing.
This post caught a lot of people’s attention. What were you thinking when you made it?
Ohh… This is the perfect example of how my mind works. As a child, I was really obsessed with dirty snow and compared it to chocolate cake icing and to my favourite childhood dessert: sucre à la crème. I guess the audience relates to my weird childhood obsession.
Can you explain the message behind this post?
Although the Internet is a widespread medium, Internet art isn’t really recognized by the local art scene. I think it’s easier for gallery artists or certified artists to be taken seriously in the art world. As an artist who distributes most of her work online, you can have a massive following, but you will never attain the same level of prestige.
A lot of your work gets reposted on personal accounts and big platforms such as Vfiles and Man Repeller. How do you feel when others regram your content? How do you protect yourself against intellectual theft?
There are no specific rules or legislation when it comes to online sharing, it’s almost impossible to stay on top of it. Policing everything gets really exhausting. I save as many uncredited reposts as possible—some people would modify my pictures for promotional purposes and put their logo on it, or put a weird filter which devalues my work, or call my content their original content and put their watermark on it. Once a month, I report a bunch of them. Instagram support is really great, within 24 hours, they would take those down. That’s how I protect my art. Otherwise, I love when people repost my work with proper credits which helps me reach a wider audience.
“As an artist who distributes most of her work online, you can have a massive following, but you will never attain the same level of prestige as gallery artists.”
Do you consider yourself a pop artist in the way you challenge and reshape the art world by altering elements from mass culture?
Oh, I don’t know. It’s hard to describe what I do. But there is definitely some overlap, I tend to decontextualize everyday objects and combine them with unrelated stuff, producing a very strange and unsettling image. This is something I am still exploring in the future but I want to do it on my own terms.
What areas of pop culture fascinate you?
There are definitely some recurring themes in my work—fashion, commercial brands and the woman’s body. When it comes to pop culture, I’m really fascinated by trends. It’s funny how diverse fields of our society are dictated by trends—people’s diet, fashion, technology, dating habits. I like to poke fun of them as much as I like to follow them.
Are you more of a trend-follower or a trendsetter?
I would like to think I am a trendsetter, but I think I am more of a trend-follower. I try to catch trends at the right moment when they are still fresh in people’s mind. It's better to create a post when the trend has been around for a bit so the most people can relate to its content.
Grotesque: (n.) In art, performance, and literature, grotesque refers to something that simultaneously invokes in an audience a feeling of uncomfortable bizarreness as well as sympathetic pity. Is the grotesque a pivotal aspect of your creative vision?
That’s really interesting. I think I’ve outgrown the grotesque phase. My content used to be way more hardcore and graphic, generating a lot of uneasiness from the audience. I remember showing my work to my parent’s friends at dinners and sensed their disgust. Right now, I try to create smarter concepts and stories— there’s still something grotesque in what I do, but it’s less obvious and lies in the essence rather than the visuals.
Your work mostly lives on Instagram and hinges on the hyper-digital nowness of the app. If Instagram stopped existing tomorrow, would your art last? If so, would it carry a different meaning?
I do want to exhibit more in galleries, and I’ve done it before. A gallery is more of an immersive experience and you don’t have the Instagram separation between recent vs old work. I also really like print magazines and have this section in my library where I stack all my publications. It’s nice to have a physical archive of my progress which provides another dimension to my work.
I recently saw on your story that you went to New York and did some collabs there. Why is it important to find your community?
It was super inspiring! I met up with three women artists: John Yuyi (@johnyuyi), she does photography and temporary tattoos. Diana Didi Rojas (@0h_heck), who replicates designer items with ceramic. Nicole Mclaughlin (@nicolemclaughlin) who does reworked slippers and clothing. They are so talented and impressive. We connected on different levels and talked about things that I can’t talk about with my friends— such as finding the right balance between showing your work and showing yourself on Instagram, or how people assumed that you are a man when you don’t reveal your face. It’s very upsetting because it completely changes the meaning of our work.
What does the future look like for Gab Bois?
Ahh, I am not much of a dreamer when it comes to my career. I don’t want to get my hopes up. To be honest, I don’t know how long it’s going to last. We will see. But right now, I am very grateful for all the opportunities that come to me and will keep working my ass off and bettering myself while making sure to stay humble along the way.
Thank you Gab, it’s been a pleasure.
Follow Gab Bois on Instagram.