by Anna Kovler

My first question upon entering John Monteith’s studio was: which part of your body gets hurt from making these? My hand, and especially my thumb, he replied, from pressing into the pencil for so long.

Dozens of intricate drawings on drafting film line the walls of Monteith’s studio, colorful, precise compositions drawn with such razor-sharp accuracy and expanses of evenly colored shapes as to require vast amounts of concentration. It can be a refuge to get lost in the task of making abstract forms: there is joy in drawing a perfect line, a thin arc in yellow, or hatching in a pale blue square. This is especially true when something in the drawing can surprise us, when something is revealed during the act of making a mark.

Working with found imagery and a personal archive of photographic references, Monteith abstracts from images of interiors, urban spaces, models and architectural propositions to first create a grey scale composition on one side of a sheet of translucent drafting film. He then flips the sheet over, and responds to the first side in colored pencil. The resulting drawing becomes a hybrid of the front and back, a third drawing in which a single shape can shift in value, darkening and lightening in response to the backside of the film. In every drawing there is a hint at something below the surface, something not immediately seen.

Monteith uses techniques of layering and methods of abstraction to discuss subjectivities, shifting contextual perspectives, things hidden, revealed, interpreted, and reinterpreted in the urban landscape. A single house occupied by various owners over a number of years, a detail of a Le Corbusier apartment complex as experienced through a myriad of different eyes, a street or neighborhood as it changes and shifts over hundreds of years are all subjects of interest.

In a separate but related body of work, Monteith weaves drawings into his photographs. Traveling to diverse countries including Germany, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba, he photographs modernist and socialist modernist architecture. To achieve a softness that at first glance appears as a slight blur, these images are constructed of one hundred layers, shots of the same location with only miniscule changes in the camera’s position. Monteith then creates a drawing in response to each location, which is photographed and inserted as a layer into the digital photographic file. In the end we are left with something between a drawing and a photograph, a complex, dazzling layering of fact and fiction.

What draws Monteith to abstraction in relation to cities, buildings, and architecture is the possibility of infinite perspectives, of relationships between people and the built environment that are experimental, provisional, and ever changing. In his drawings and photographs I see a queerness defined not only through difference, but also through radical openness buttressed with dedication, responsiveness, and a true interest in the way we look at architecture, and by extension at one another.

John Monteith’s solo exhibition Resonances opens on April 5, 2018 at Division Gallery Toronto. His upcoming international solo exhibitions include Kindred Spirits at the Taipei Contemporary Art Centre, Taiwan in October, In Retrospect, as part of Beijing22, a five-year curatorial initiative hosted by I Project Space, Beijing, China where he will be in residency in November and December, and an edition launching in May with Unique Multiples, Madrid, Spain.


John Monteith in his Toronto studio, 2018.


John Monteith, Southbank 5, Wax and Pigment Pencil on
Drafting Film, 2017, 24″ x 18″.


John Monteith, Southbank 6, Wax and Pigment Pencil on
Drafting Film, 2017, 24″ x 18″.


John Monteith, Platz 12, Archival Giclée photographs on Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Matte Paper, 2017, 42″ x 28″.

John Monteith, Platz 1, Archival Giclée photographs on Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Matte Paper, 2017, 42″ x 28″.