Distance prevents me from enjoying the ambiance of Montreal, the sea of creative madness that is currently churning in the historic architecture of original Canadiana. But alas, I am here, and you’re there, dear Montreal. See, this isn’t just a tragic love story of girl meets city that sparks a wild hunger to create helter-skelter and run away, throwing caution to the wind a-la Beat Poet promiscuity of the 1960’s revolution! It is much more fanciful than that. I met a fellow, through this world wide web. He has a message, a movement from a generation that swims under the radars of mainstream attention. He has the ambition to change the system away from the methods currently construed as the righteous, proper methodology of artistic accomplishment. He is actually a they, two men; Tim Barnard and Jason Botkin. The fathers of the art collective ensemble En Masse, based in Montreal.

Jason agreed to share with me all that is En Masse via a high-tech email correspondence.  (Perhaps the one and only time I loathe this new fan-dangled wizardry of the internet, feeling a loss at not being able to speak with him in person.)

Created in 2009 by Jason and Tim, at the Galerie Pangee in Montreal’s old port district; a revolution was born. Originally produced as a ‘one-off’ large scale drawing experiment (with dubious hopes of success), the project rapidly gained momentum and, as Jason states so stoically, “Has gone out the roof!”

“Tim and I had been throwing drawing parties for years, having been roommates while attending The Alberta College of Art and Design together in Calgary. We’d been given access to the Galerie Pangee for a stretch, and after entertaining the fanciful notion of some mega-salon-style-exhibition of all the great artists we knew in Montreal (without gallery representation), we fell upon the En Masse (EM) idea: cover the walls in paper (10 feet by 150 feet), and invite these same cats to the space for a heavy collaborative workout.”

Wait, it gets better. There is no constructive rhyme or “plan” to each work of art, just a few key rules that every artist must adhere to: no colours other than black, and white. Think collaboration. Exercise respect. Now, here is your paint (“A secret mix like india ink, but super opaque, and waterproof…recipe available upon request!!”) and brush. Have fun.

In a nut shell that’s what transpires on each En Masse drawing session comprised of multiple artists, all in tune with their own creative conscious. Described as a conversation, each mural is a slaptastick compilation of genius that doesn’t seem to quiet down, or take much thought to stop the transition of the story from artist to artist. It’s a beautiful thing to behold, truthfully. And that’s where beauty lies; En Masse is more free-flow-conversation, a movement built on sheer joy and creation.


“The drawing builds organically, playing off of the first strong elements put into place. Someone will do a face for example, perhaps leaving an element of this character ‘open’ for others to continue and modify the design. As space steadily fills, the imagery begins to take unexpected twists and turns of intricacy and composition, dependent on the quality of artistic ability and more importantly, the quality and quantity of communication these artists share through the process. It’s always magic, and infused with the joy of uninhibited creation.”

Easier said than done, I thought, as I perplexed the notion that these murals could be born from the many hands of varying artists (let’s try to imagine 20 men and women vying for their space on one wall in a room), with little to no restraint? How can a collective successfully provide a singular voice – through art – that is represented by a diverging culture of different minds?

 “Three guys form the core of the Montreal-based EN MASSE Project: Rupert Bottenberg, Fred Caron, and myself. We run the day-to-day administration of the initiative, making sure our baby grows strong legs. One of our more challenging tasks lies in choosing which artists will participate in each event. Having now worked with nearly 150+ characters internationally, our list is long and ever expanding!

The flavor each artist brings to the mix gives each mural overall character. We’re careful in our choice of artists, especially on a commercial contract where we need to work with people who are predictably solid, show up on time, and collaborate very well. That said however, we always strive to fold in new players to the mix to keep it fresh.


Originally, Tim and I invited friends, and then folks we did not know but wanted to work with. These people recommended their friends and thus the list grew. Now, we’re very fortunate to receive a steady stream of emails from artists around the world looking to participate in some way. We’ve not got space for everyone unfortunately, but as we grow, many more opportunities are being created to be able to bring new cats into the mix, both locally and internationally. We’ve got some exciting stuff cooking up in the kitchen let’s say!”

The conversations of En Masse don’t just stop in Montreal, oh no. As Jason stated in one of his emails, En Masse plans to become an international initiative movement, bridging the gaps between seen and unseen artists on a global scale. Murals are already in Detroit, San Diego, Tijuana, Toronto, Ottawa, having recently left behind a sizeable contribution to New York City. Next on the mural conversation hit list are Vietnam, Texas, San Fransico, Taiwan, and many hot spots in New York and the surrounding area. En Masse is on a mission to infect the cultural hubs of cities throughout the world. Really isn’t something I would recommend being vaccinated against, this artistic infection.

New York was the latest victim, inviting the boys to bring their artists to take part in the week long Fountain Art Fair in Manhattan. Judging from the videos, photos, and overuse of exclamation marks in his final email, I assume the trip was insane with titillation. Hard not to be when you’re set loose in the Big Apple with permission to pop-white-walls’-cherries in an artistic collaborative free-for-all. Am I omitting a scent of jealousy? Probably. Even a zombie would be surging for brains to hear about this show-down of artistic revolution.

“The NYC trip came about through our recent adventures in Miami. We did projects with Scope Art Fair and with Primary Flight, and while there, we were introduced to the Fountain Art Fair. Who then invited us to Manhattan for their 2012 Armory week edition, located at the original Armory location. This was a Big Apple event all the way, working with many new cats from all over the country and including a few from Japan. We had a blast!”


I know, Jason sounds all too good to be true, what with his vision to start an arts quest with his best mate from school, and invite the underground scene of unknowns and under-appreciated artists to join the utopian ranks of his En Masse project. Yet, he is perhaps the most genuine, nice guy I have never-met. Look, right here, as he closes out the interview with this tidbit of amazement, when I asked how one might start their own conversation-project-not-to-be-mistaken-for-a-collective.

“Being an artist takes courage and tough skin. These traits don’t necessarily come naturally, one must cultivate them carefully sometimes, while others who may have these characteristics in spades go on to make very successful careers out of mediocre work. Becoming a professional artist also means learning some basic business skills, which are often totally foreign to so many of us (myself included). Advice about starting a project like this…lots. If you want some, probably the best this is to drop me a note at info@enmasse.info and take me out for lunch sometime. I really like sandwiches.”