Donne-moi un break
Mathieu Murphy-Perron is a Montreal playwright, writer, photographer and activist. He also has a day job. Wait – nix that. Hehad a day job. He is now an unemployed playwright, writer, photographer and activist. And that is where you come in. I caught wind of his predicament via Facebook, where friends of mine had been sharing news that he was trying to raise emergency money by holding a blowout sale of his amazing photographs. I love his pics: architectural without being cold, smart without being smug, and a little bit eerie. I just had to throw him some questions.
Describe how you got to this place of hosting a sale of your photographs online to support yourself.
Without getting into the legalities and details of my termination, I was summarily dismissed on May 1st, only a few weeks after having led a successful union certification drive at my workplace. Without any notice, cause or severance, I had to think of the fastest way to supplement my income to make sure I had money covered for my rent, utilities, upcoming travels, and general sustenance. Many individuals had often expressed an interest in purchasing some of my artwork and so after gauging that my labour dispute wouldn’t be settled overnight, I decided to launch my store with a 1 week sale.
Short of being a world famous artist who sells their soul to the devil — or advertising — do you think it’s possible to make a living being an artist?
Undoubtedly. I have been fortunate enough to know many visual and performing artists who live primarily off their work. It’s far from easy and not always glamorous, but it’s possible. More so of course if you already have a certain level of privilege in life. It’s easier for a straight cisgender able-bodied white man to live off their art than for a queer disabled racialized trans woman. That is something we need to acknowledge whenever we talk about “success” and the various paths that lead to it.
What kind of response have you gotten so far?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Tons of friends and strangers are sharing the sale on social media and I’m already 30% to my goal in the first day. I’ve also been offered small contracts to help tide things through as I search for something more permanent. It’s been extremely humbling and encouraging.
Do you want your old job back?
I’m an organizer. I like to lend my talents to organizations that rally folks together and advocate for people’s rights. I was happy at my old job and still have a few things I want to help implement before moving on to future challenges.
How kind is Montreal to artists?
Montréal remains the kindest major metropolitan North American city for artists to live in, bar none. Despite the erosion of our public services and the gentrification of our neighbourhoods, it is still relatively easier for an artist to go against the corporate grain and survive by their own terms here than in our Canadian or American counterparts.
Do you feel desperate?
I’d say this is the toughest spot I’ve been in so far, which speaks volumes to the great privilege I have been granted. As an organizer, it’s important to map out all the options in front of you and to remain aware of the various variables at play. Answering the call to sell some photos seemed like the most efficient way to raise some temporary funds during this transitional period of either finding new employment or securing my old job back through an appeal to the Labour Board. The sale was plan B, but there were a few other plans ready to go if ever it failed.
Do you feel lucky?
I wouldn’t use the word luck, as the privileges I experience are systemic of nature and far from random. I am very fortunate to have had solid employment since university, a solid network of individuals interested in working with me, and the financial security to live comfortably and travel the world for both personal and professional ventures. To have had the leisure to dive into photography and develop my craft to the point where people are interested in hanging my photos up on their walls. The same cannot be said for many of the 2.6 million unemployed or under-employed Canadians.
Where would you like to be in ten years?
I’m a homegrown boy. I’d like to still be in Montréal. Making art and causing trouble. Ideally have a few more plays under my belt, maybe finish that novel, and generally keep working and volunteering for various community groups and social movements.
Which is your favourite photograph you are selling, and why.
That’s a hard question to answer. Akin to picking your favourite child. Not that the act of taking a photo is anything like the actual physical act of labour. I’d say that due to my political convictions and the fondness with which I remember and long for le printemps érable, “convinction, mobilisatrice” would be my favourite. Universal access to post-secondary education is key to economic justice and to fostering more minds to work towards creating a fairer world. It is something I will always fight for.
First posted on Rover.