First few basic questions, who are you, what are you doing, where are you coming from?
My name is Mona Sultan, I am a collage artist currently living in Canada, I was raised in Damascus, Syria and I studied Graphic Design in Beirut.
Over the past 15 years I’ve worked as a graphic designer in film followed by 8 years of running a fashion accessory line. Just over 2 years ago I decided to close down the business as it stopped being fulfilling. While I was hoping to go back to film, my plans quickly changed due to a sudden onset of vertigo. The diagnosis was hard as I was advised to stay away from the computer, which meant that I had to rethink my creative path. That’s when collage became my main creative outlet. I am still in recovery today, and still learning to slow down, and collage has been an amazingly fulfilling medium, through it, I am able to process a lot of my own emotions and get more comfortable with listening to my intuition.
Your works are very minimal but the cutting and composition make them somehow addictively emotionally charged, especially when there are human figures – How do you choose and then approach your subject?
I grew up in the ’90s, flipping through Vogue and Elle in my teens, during what I believe was the most intriguing era of fashion photography, this became a big influence. I think my fascination with the feminine and the minimal started here.
I like to choose a subject or an image that moves me, sometimes the entire image brings up emotion, other times it’s a specific element that stirs up something in me. What I do with the image next is highlight that emotion, push it further so that it’s expressed through the lines of my blade, the positioning of each piece, and eventually the composition.
When you’re collaging, what’s your favorite part of the creative process?
Halfway through the process, when there are a million pieces of paper cutouts around me, I like to take a minute and look at the way all the pieces lay on top of each other in a scattered way. I grab a cardboard frame and start sliding it around looking for interesting combinations. I’ve discovered many interesting visuals with this technique.
And then, what’s the hardest part?
Throwing paper cutouts away. I think all collage artists are paper hoarders. It was getting a bit out of hand so I decided to keep a “discards” bin that I recycle once a month, this way it’s tidier and I am able to let go slowly. Needless to say, you’ll often find me digging through that bin when I need more options.
“What I love about collage is the lack of rules and guidelines.”
During the time you have made collages, how has your creative process changed?
I am less concerned about the outcome and much more intrigued by the process. I quickly discovered that what I love about collage is the lack of rules and guidelines. There is this sense of freedom and spontaneity that I thoroughly enjoy and that I had a hard time experiencing as a graphic designer.
Which other art forms inspire you besides collaging? And does it show somehow in your works?
Photography and film have definitely influenced my composition. I am regularly inspired by other artists of all disciplines, my latest are the works of photographers like Francesca Woodman, Masao Yamamoto, and Gabriel Cuallado. I find myself very drawn to the sense of mystery and the strong emotions their works have in common, there is an untold story and the viewer has to connect the dots. These very elements of mystery and absence fuel my work, they are familiar and I find myself in them.
While you’re working on new artwork, when and how do you know it’s ready? Is it a clear or immediate moment?
Yes, I can tell right away when the artwork is ready. When I’m working on a piece, I am essentially translating a personal feeling, but I don’t necessarily have a clear image of what that feeling looks like until I dive into the work. Sometimes it’s instant other times the exploration takes longer.
When you’re working on a piece, which you feel guides you, your senses, or your emotions?
As I mentioned earlier, my connection to the image is emotional first, then everything else starts to work together throughout the process. But if I am stuck while working on a piece or project I seek emotions, I will play a song that takes me back, look at the artwork that moves me, or watch a movie that I know will stir things up in me.
What drives you forward as an artist?
Self-exploration. This only changed recently with collage. Before that I was too fixated on the outcome and the idea of “making it”, which eventually burned me out and didn’t help me evolve as an artist. Today I am eager to experiment, to make mistakes, to feel a range of emotions and not just the positive ones. It stopped being about getting somewhere and more about fully experiencing the process.
If you should describe your art with one word, what would it be?