Artist based in Toronto, Canada

Mahsa Merci
Mahsa Merci, Portrait of the Artist

Tell us about yourself, what's your background?

I am a multidisciplinary artist from Iran based in Canada; I work on various mediums from painting, drawing, sculpture to installation, video and animation.

I have wanted to be an artist since I was a child; most of the time, I stayed in my room and did something creative, such as making collages, painting and swinging clothes for my dolls. In my early teenage time, I attend art classes in summer times; Therefore, these classes motivated me to explore and continue doing art. Then, I went to Art school, learned general requirements, and explored various mediums and technics. After that, I got my BA in Graphic design from the Art University of Tehran and MA in Painting from Azad University in Iran. Recently, I graduated Master of Fine Art from the University of Manitoba, Canada.

Mahsa Merci
Sunset, 2021, Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm

"Much of my work reflects a focus on marginal identities, gender, sexuality and redefines the meaning of beauty . . . I try to raise awareness in the audience of the hidden facets people may carry within all aspects of their identities."

Mahsa Merci in her studio

What are you currently working on and where did the inspiration for it come from?

Except painting, I am recently working on sculpture more seriously. Since I started painting, I have been doing it with sculptural textures; I use oil colours, heavy mediums for acrylics, and sometimes knives instead of brushes to get more 3D features to my paintings. As well as this, I always have several ideas for making sculptures to show my ideas through them. As a matter of fact, making sculpture need some skills and experience, which I am currently learning and discovering various techniques to display my thoughts better.

Installation views of my recent show ''Silent Stars'' at Mayten's Gallery in Toronto, Canada

Innovation does not only happen in the field of technology — it occurs everyday in an artist's practice. What do you do for inspiration?

I believe there are many items to become a source of inspiration. My subconscious plays a vital role in my practice; I work unconsciously and find the idea and meaning behind the work after finishing it, especially for sculptures and animations. Each of them is my inspiration for the following subsequent work. In addition, social-political situation, culture, tradition, religion, psychology are all my fountain of motivation which I find these subjects in various books, articles and movies to learn more and utilize them in my practice.

Studio view
Work in Progress

Describe your practice and process. Where do ideas start for you? In the studio or being in the world?

Much of my work reflects a focus on marginal identities, gender, sexuality and redefines the meaning of beauty. It discusses the act of painting and sculpture as a natural extension of my suppressed role in Iranian society. I try to raise awareness in the audience of the hidden facets people may carry within all aspects of their identities.

I believe there is always a spectrum between the two poles; Poles that are at times contradictory and others complementary, and at the same time, they are turbulent and sometimes unexplored. A spectrum that the subconscious is more aware of it than the conscious is. As a queer artist, I am eager to show the spectrum
from beauty to grotesque, from gentleness to harshness, from feminine to masculine, from private to public and from conscious to subconscious.

My ideas come from both in my studio and the world. Sometimes it comes from one of my previous works that are already finished; for example, the sculpture '' I Am Carrying My Beauty Everywhere'' comes from one of the paintings I did in 2015. Or I got inspiration from a person, a situation and an image I see virtually or in-person, and it continues in my studio practice.

Mahsa Merci
God's Hand, 2021, Mixed media,79 x 114 x 8 cm
Work in progress

How do you make your work, does it start with a sketch? Can you tell us about your style? How did you arrive at it?

It depends on the medium that I am working. For paintings, I find the characters from all the LGBTQIA+ communities. Unfortunately due to covid, I couldn’t engage in person with the community, so I found them through the internet and social media. I started the conversation with each of them about their journey, struggles and stories, which became my main inspiration. Then, I asked if they wanted me to paint them. After I juxtaposed all the gestures, body language, makeup, outfit, tattoos and accessories to start the painting. Each painting took me 2 to 3 months roughly. I outline on the canvas and start to paint like a printer from top to bottom. Because I never had an academic painting course, This way of painting comes from myself.

The process is different for the sculpture, The idea and concept arise from my subconscious. In the early steps, I never sketch, I start making the work through various materials that I have in my studio. I have hundreds of find objects, ready-made and artificial materials such as nails, flowers, mirrors, eyelashes, text stickers and etc, Then, I collage and assemblage them together to move forward. The characters in my sculpture are not real and they are all come from my imagination.

Mahsa Merci
Heaven, oil on canvas, 20x16 in, 2021
Mahsa Merci
Dornaz, oil on canvas, mirrors and fake individual eyelashes on MDF board, 46x27x1 in, 2021

Many artists live by their routines, working for only a certain period of time of day, listening to dedicated playlists, or eating specific foods while in the studio. Do you have your own studio ritual? What does that look like for you?

I usually go to my studio from moring around 10 o'clock after eating breakfast at home. Depending on my mood, I have several playlists on Spotify and play one. Sometimes I play podcasts and interviews about art, social and political issues and gender and identity subjects.

I work simultaneously on painting, sculpture and video in the studio and there are some unfinished pieces that I work on them. Sometimes, in the evening, I go to galleries, walk around and buy some materials for inspiration. After coming home, I watch a movie and read a book to get energy for the next day.

Who are your biggest influences?

Many people influenced me, including my teacher for the private art course that I attended when I was younger and some of my professors in the school of Art at the University of Manitoba.

Also, many artists have inspired me, from Tracey Emin, Eva Hess, Louise Bourgeois, Lucian Freud to Anselm Kiefer, David Altmejd, Cajsa von Zeipel and Nan Goldin.

Installation view of my recent show ''Silent Stars'' at Mayten's Gallery in Toronto, Canada

Are there books or films that are an important source of inspiration?

Absolutely! The most important books that I have read and become my source of inspiration are ''Gender Trouble'' by Judith Butler and ''Women with Mustaches and Men Without Beards'' by Afsaneh Najmabadi. Also, It is hard to select my favourite movies because I get influenced by the director's ideology and atmospheres more than a movie itself, such as David Lynch, Gaspar Noé, Lars von Trier, and Michael Haneke.

How will Innovate Grant contribute to your practice?

It is very gratifying and encouraging to be selected and obtain this support from Innovate Grant, thank you very much! Truly, it comes at a perfect time for contributing to the ongoing sculpture and animation projects that I am currently working on.

Mahsa Merci
Norm, Mixed media, 41x27.5x3 in, 2020

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Be brave and never give up!

What is the best advice you would give to other artists?

Be your authentic self!

Mahsa Merci
Shattered Towards Me, oil on canvas, 20x16 in, 2021

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