Most people know Lights as one of Canada’s hottest musicians.
She’s been pumping out highly addictive radio staples for a good decade, beginning when hits like “Drive My Soul” and “February Air” put her on the map and into the playlists of countless millennials during the iPod era. What may come as a surprise to some is that the multi Juno Award-winning electro pop sensation is also a talented visual artist.
Lights hit Toronto last week to introduce her first ever arts exhibition, Finding Your Power: Skin & Earth, a 15-piece original art show featuring never-before-seen drawings from her vibrant comic book creations. As fans of Lights know, she is set to release a comic book in conjunction with her last album, Skin & Earth, and the show reflects select pieces from the comic, each with its own distinct story but with a common theme of badass empowerment.
The initiative is part of Lights’ role as an art ambassador for the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series, a search for the next great Canadian visual artist to make their mark on the art world. In addition to her debut art exhibit, Lights will judge the Toronto reveal of finalists this fall. The contest is open to artists over the age of 25, and participants can submit their art until July 11. The winner will collaborate with Artsy on a public installation and will receive a $10,000 USD stipend.
“The more I looked into the Bombay Sapphire Artisan Series, it was a really cool thing because – for example, this is my first art show – this is the first time I feel kind of validated as an artist and there’s something really cool about that,” said Lights when I sat down with her before the exhibit’s opening party. “Most people know me as a musician, but I then I started to put these comics out. I think the hardest thing has been communicating to people that I actually wrote and drew all of it. There’s nobody coming along tapping you on the shoulder and saying ‘you’re an artist now’. It’s something you just sort of have to put out there.”
Lights acknowledges a common issue among up-and-coming artists: Sometimes there’s simply nowhere to put the art created. “There are a lot of people who create art and maybe don’t do it for a living but just love it and are so passionate about it. Art is so important for one’s mental health,” she says. “Something like this Bombay Sapphire series is a great opportunity for artists to show people what they’ve got.”
Lights’ glaringly apparent talent as a visual artist didn’t happen overnight; she has actually been creating art as long as she has been creating music. “Art has always influenced what I do and comics have always influenced my aesthetic, as well as everything else that I am interested in,” she says. “Not until last year did I start focusing on it, and next month my graphic novel comes out. This exhibit is 17 pieces from the 170 pages. The graphic novel has QR codes that you can scan with your phone to bring up micro sites that auto play music videos that are associated with all of the chapters because it’s all tied in with the album. It was the first time I have ever heard of anything like that, and the opportunity to pioneer the mixed medium of music and comics in this way has been the craziest feeling. ”
For Lights, the creative process behind writing music and creating visual art isn’t all too different. “There are definitely rituals that take place to create something. You start with an idea, then you structure out the basics of how it is going to look, then you start to flush out the details. That’s exactly how writing a song is. That’s exactly how creating a piece of art is,” says Lights.
“Everything starts as nothing, and then you make something out of nothing. I think that’s a miracle that as humans we can create, and I think that’s such a cool thing; you get so much fulfillment out of creating something from nothing and I think everyone needs to experience it.”
In creating the exhibit, the biggest challenge was narrowing down the image selection from the 170 pages that she created over a two-year period. “It was hard to just pick 15 images and say ‘these are the best moments’. For me, I see it as a whole,” said Lights. “Fortunately, I worked with this really amazing team who sort of picked out some moments that really stuck out to them, then we started to lay out the room based on the way people may be walking and taking in the work. A person who isn’t creatively involved in the storyline will perceive it differently, and I think that’s a cool take on it too, because if I had it my way, I would probably be like, ‘this is the storyline, this is how it all goes’.”
The common themes that resonate through the captivating (and very photogenic) works are a sense of coming out of one’s shell, finding a place in the world, and, as Lights says, finally “owning it.” If there’s anyone who is owning it in life at the moment, it’s Lights. In between the busy touring schedules of she and her husband Beau Bokan, she somehow manages to balance a #goals-worthy family life with their adorable and brilliant (I may be slightly obsessed with her) four-year-old daughter, Rocket.
How does she do it? “It’s a lot of being okay with not knowing what is going to happen and not planning too much. You kind of have to roll with it,” says Lights. “Aside from tours, I don’t plan out the logistics of my life until about a month in advance because anything can happen. I don’t know where Beau is going to be; I don’t know where I’m going to be; I don’t know where Rocket is going to be. I’ve learned over the past five years to be way more spontaneous than I used to be. Change used to be so hard for me and I’ve had to change as a person to accommodate that. I have learned to be easygoing about everything and learn to really enjoy every minute. And that’s obviously the biggest thing that’s gotten me through it – just enjoying every moment when I’m with her. It’s the best. I need to make sure I’m present for her.”
What sets Lights apart from other successful musicians – and something that’s just as refreshing each time you see her – is how genuine, warm, and humble she is. “Especially with this comic, I wrote a lot of myself into the character and I wrote a lot of my flaws into the character and the way I would respond to things,” she says. “It’s not necessarily the right way to respond to things, but it’s what I do. I think there’s something really cool about that. So, I’m probably more empowered by those pieces than by a superhero.”
The public exhibition was open to the public June 14-16.
All photos by Ryan Emberley