Artist profile: Daryl Vocat

By Andrea Raymond

Surface & Symbol
September 2003. Volume 15, Number 7
A Publication of the Scarborough Arts Council

A boy stares at himself in the mirror. The word fag is scrawled across the mirror in large red letters. Titled Personal Measurements, this screen print is part of Perfectly Normal, a body of work by Toronto based artist Daryl Vocat. Like so many other pieces of Vocat’s work, this image strikes a chord, cutting right to the core of adolescent insecurities, looking at the way we view ourselves.

A prolific artist, Vocat has created several bodies of work dealing with issues of gender and masculinity. A dominant image in Vocat’s work is that of the Boy Scouts. Using several found images from scouting handbooks, Vocat uses his 12 years of scouting and the ideologies promoted through the scouts as a jump off point for his art making process. “Perfectly Normal is about the struggle between youthful expectation and adult actualization. It is an exploration and celebration of the confusion, hope, wonder, and awkwardness of growing up queer. The boys depicted are at a time in their lives when development is an absurd burden they have no choice but to endure,” writes Vocat in a statement about the work.

Since creating Perfectly Normal and completing his Master of Fine Arts at York University in 2001, Vocat has made several other works, the most recent body of which is titled Another Fun Idea. This work features images from Boy Scout handbooks depicting boys working and playing. This work examines gender roles, subverting masculine and heterosexual assumptions. One image depicts two boys working together on a knitting project. Of the themes in his work, Vocat says, “I came to using those images from scouts - they were images that I grew up with. I was in scouts for 12 years. As I was growing up, going through
puberty and figuring out who I was. The ideas and ideals of scouting were a big part of my life... In an attempt to become a universal entity, the scouting movement has tried to stick to the same ideals - they talk about being inclusive of race, nationality and class. Certain ideals of how you should behave to be a man.”

When he was attending the University of Regina, Vocat took several printmaking courses. One of his instructors kept pushing him to make more work. It was then that the scouting imagery first appeared in Vocat’s art. “I was thinking of ideas of growing up, looking through my books, and realized that these images [scouting] would be a good way of talking about understanding the world.” Using the wholesome 50s style imagery from his handbooks, Vocat found that he was able to talk about his experiences growing up in the context of these images. He says, “The reason I like to use those images is because it’s a good way to both critique and pay honour to what I went through.”

Vocat doesn’t limit himself to screen printing, or to scouting imagery The series of work he is currently making does use some of these images, continuing to explore similar themes - relationships and how we relate to the world. Vocat has also worked with film and photography, and continues to experiment. He does teach printmaking workshops at Open Studio, and makes art his full time job these days, something he very much enjoys.

Along with this article four images from Perfectly Normal were printed in the paper. One was used for the front cover.