Photos and interview by Liz Barclay (@liz_barclay)
Toronto-based illustrator and designer Jim Mezei has done work for clients ranging from major music festivals to New York Magazine, applying his vintage aesthetic to a wide range of subjects. As food-art obsessives, though, we’ve become particularly enamored with his colorful prints—available on his website shop for as little as $15—featuring some of our most beloved culinary staples: steaks, hot dogs, and even a bottle of San Pellegrino.
Last week, Mezei stopped by our office to share some of his favorite food- and drink-themed pieces from his portfolio and chat about his inspirations, techniques, and obsessions. Click through the gallery above to see his work, and read the interview below.
What drew you to printmaking as a medium?
I started using lino in my third and fourth year of university simply because I didn’t have a silkscreen setup and I had tried lino-printing in high school. The texture that came from hand burnishing relief prints interested me; I love the little differences you get when you print by hand. These little imperfections and the process keep me going back to it and experimenting with how I can manipulate the medium.
Where do you draw your inspiration for your subject matter—food, booze, Americana, tools, the blue-collar lifestyle?
Inspiration usually comes from my background, interests, aspirations, and curiosities. I tend to draw what’s around me or what I grew up with. The most traveling I’ve done is around North America and I love seeing new places, grand or dull, so Americana and Canadiana is what has been around. Working with my hands has always been the most important to me. My mother has always been really handy and creative, making us toys and whatnot from an early age. I had my own tool box when I was little and loved messing about with it when I had the patience to sit still for a minute. During university I worked construction for four summers and before that worked at a local greenhouse. They were jobs that at first I wasn’t so sure about, then really ended up enjoying. After school I worked as a barista while getting illustration going, and I really missed the outdoor, active, handy feeling those other jobs gave me. I love working outside and having something to show for the work I put in at the end of the day. When I really started pursuing illustration and design I went about it with the same attitude and the subject matter just sort of crept in.
How did you develop your signature style, which has a lot of rustic lines and primary, simple colors?
For these prints specifically, that style arose from what worked best graphically. I started using gouache behind some of the prints because it’s so flat and makes the printed colors pop. More recently, I like playing with real scenes that have a foreground, middle, and background. I put something layered like that next to a vignetted object. I think it ends up creating interesting relationships which aren’t foreseeable when first printing.
You have mentioned your appreciation of music—how does it influence you?
It’s like anything else—sometimes it directly influences an image I want to create or just helps fuel my mood when making things. I go in cycles of listening to music while I work. I tend to do it most often when I’m collaborating with someone or working on larger scale things like paintings, sculpture, or murals.
You claimed in an interview that “Survival of the Fittest” by Mobb Deep related well to you as an artist. Which other hip-hop artists do you look to for inspiration?
I was referring then to how I would sometimes like to be perceived. In reality, I’m more like a Randy Newman track. I do listen to hip-hop more often then not, though. Right now I like Action Bronson, Azealia Banks, Kendrick Lamar. Honestly, I think some homegrown talent/friends have been doing inspiring things especially with their latest videos: Toronto’s Notes to Self, and even closer to home, N/A of DAB.
What is your relationship to food? What was an iconic meal you’ve eaten in the past five years?
It’s probably cliche because who doesn’t, but I love it. My mother and grandmothers are all incredible cooks. I ate very well growing up, lots of Eastern European food and Canadian classics. An iconic meal I’ve eaten in the past five years would have to be the LT burger and champagne I shared with my now fiancé after I proposed in Sag Harbor. Maybe burgers are traditional and not iconic, but now the pairing is iconic to me.
What is your favorite snack to eat while you work?
As a Canadian I would have to say our equivalent to your Swedish Fish, the Swedish Berry.
What is your drink of choice? Can we assume it involves whiskey?
It does involve whiskey. Bourbon to be a little more specific; Wild Turkey if you have it. Two ounces of Wild Turkey, one ice cube in a tin cup. Yum.