August 2023
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How Artist Gab Bois Launched Her Career on Instagram

Photo: Courtesy of Pegah Farahmand 

by Zoë Kendall

“I was such a Tumblr teenager,” says Gab Bois with a smile and a laugh. The Montréal-based artist is reminiscing about her formative years as a creator, spent scrolling the platform’s digital dashboard, an endless mood board of ideas and images which inspired her to first pick up her family’s old point-and-shoot camera to snap some of her photos. In 2016, the artist — like most of us — made the leap from Tumblr to Instagram. “I started posting on there for fun, shooting between classes or at night,” she says, of creating her signature, surrealist works. “I was doing it super DIY, in my bedroom.”

Just as quickly as Gab had hopped social media platforms, it seems, her work began taking off. “Pretty much overnight,” the artist says, her posts — sculpture-photograph hybrids featuring DIY Evian tearscondom lollipops, or a set of Nike braces — began accumulating thousands of likes.

When Nike reached out to Gab in 2019, she thought the jig was up. “I thought they were going to ask me to take [the post] down,” she says, referring to the viral braces, created with bootleg stickers sourced from Montréal’s Garment District. Rather than slapping the artist with a cease-and-desist, the sportswear giant offered to buy the image, printing it on T-shirts for its 2019 women’s collection. “That was one of my first brand deals and it was a huge one. I was freaking out,” Gab says. “I also love the concept that a real brand would put the bootleg logo on their real shirt.”

Gab’s art dabbles, precisely in this kind of duality, the line between real and fake, physical and digital, sculptural and photograph. It’s her knack for the uncanny — the delightfully novel and the unsettlingly familiar — that has struck, and continues, to strike a chord with social media scrollers, from Tumblr to Instagram and beyond. Today, the artist has garnered over 645,000 Instagram followers (and counting!), and has landed contracts with massive brands like VSCOand SSENSE, and fashion labels from Balenciaga to Jean Paul Gaultier.

Here, we sit down with the artist to talk about the precarity of social media, how to know when you’ve burned out, and, of course, about making the leap to become a full-time creator.

Can you tell us a bit about your career journey before becoming a full-time creator?

I always knew that I wanted to do something creative — whether a hobby or just as part of my life — but never really as a job or career, because it was too scary! I wanted to be a kindergarten teacher because I really love children; I love their imagination and being inspired by the craziest things that they say. I did two years of visual arts in CEGEP [a public college in Québec that bridges high school and university] where I learned painting, sculpting, art history, and a bit of everything, but nothing about having a career in the arts or the business side of arts, which I find is still very taboo. Because of that, I was like, “Let’s pick something stable, something I know I’m going to enjoy.” So I started a bachelor’s degree in primary school education.

During my undergrad, I was working part-time for a luxury consignment boutique in Montréal. At some point, I decided to pause my studies because my photography started getting a lot of traction on Instagram. That decision was super nerve-wracking, but I was always planning on going back to school if it didn’t work out.

After about a year and a half, I quit my part-time retail job and got a nine-to-five job doing photo-editing for a brand’s e-commerce platform.

What pushed you to leave your 9-to-5 and focus on being a full-time creator?

In 2019, the company I was working for went bankrupt and I was let go. I’ve always loved security and, to be honest, I don’t think I would have quit that job for a long time if the company hadn’t gone bankrupt. But I think that news came at a really good time for me, because I knew I could make a decent salary doing my creative work full-time. I told myself, “This is a good time to try it out. I have a little money saved up. And if it doesn’t work, I was going back [to another nine-to-five job].” [Laughs]. 

I was super lucky to have that time and space to try it out, to do a lot of outreach, and to focus on putting out really cool work that would get brands’ attention. It worked out and I ended up getting a lot of commissions after that. And it just kept going.

Can you tell us more about the support you’ve received from your community in growing your business?

In 2019, I flew out to New York City to meet up with some other artists whose work I admired and who I wanted to collaborate with: Nicole McLaughlin (who became one of my close friends after that trip); Didi Rojas (who does really amazing ceramics); and John Yuyi (who’s also a photographer and multi-disciplinary artist). We were in touch via Instagram DM and on FaceTime before I came, and when I got there, we did some collaborative pieces together. 

Seeing how they work and connecting with them about what we do for work really helped me feel more secure as an artist. I felt much more solid having these key people in my life to reach out to when I had questions about certain aspects of the work, or even specific clients, bouncing questions back and forth.

What are some of the challenges you faced in your first year as a creator?

I think the main challenge is being scared that what I do is just a trend, and that people will move on and forget about it. It started overnight, and it will end the same way. Especially in the beginning, when I had no track record, I was scared it would all go away as quickly as it started. 

Even today, when I tell myself I have a good track record, my mind always goes there: “This is your last month. Take every deal that you can. This isn’t forever.” That feeling is something I have in me every single day and is definitely a source of stress, but it always keeps me on my toes, so it’s good and bad.


You came up on social media platforms like Tumblr and then Instagram. Can you tell us about the unique experience and challenges you’ve faced using social media as a creator?

I think it’s important for me to say that my experience with social media has been mostly positive because I owe, like, 95% of my success today to it.

In the beginning, I was confused as to how much of myself I wanted to put on [Instagram]. I work with social media, but posting about myself is not a reflex that I have. I take photos of things I’ve put together, but not everyday moments in my life. 

I had this idea that putting my face on social media and talking to my audience would create a closer-knit community. I felt that pressure but I didn’t want to do that at all; I wanted to keep it all about the work and not about me. At first, it was a weird balance to find and it took some time, but now I never post my face and I’m a lot more comfortable with that.

Can you speak with us about your experiences with burnout as a creator?

I don’t think I’m a role model for this at all [laughs], because I have a huge tendency to never take breaks and push through [with my work]. Especially during COVID, I really burned myself out, taking every job I could because I didn’t know what was going to happen in the future. 

The only time I’m ever able to stop is when I start feeling anxious or depressed in my personal life. That’s when I’m like, “No, this isn’t worth sacrificing my health or my mental health for.”


What are some tools or services you’d recommend to freelance creators who are just getting started?

I recently got this website as a sponsored post on Instagram. I always hate sponsored posts but I’ve been telling my friends to check it out. It’s called Artenda and it provides information about a lot of artist residencies and grants, including the duration, where it is, how much it costs, and the application deadline. All of these things are really good resources. I’d also say hire a good accountant.

What’s some advice you would give to someone who wants to pursue a career similar to yours?

Surrounding yourself with one or two key people who know about the business side of freelancing is super important. There are so many things [about freelancing] that we don’t get taught in schools, like taxes and contracts. It’s super boring stuff, but it can really impact your business. Administration is 30 to 40% of my job. It doesn’t show, but that’s a huge part of what you do [as a freelancer]. I do it myself, but at first I didn’t know how to do it, and there weren’t that many resources available. Having a few people who knew about that side of freelancing helped me a lot.

Something I would do differently, in terms of getting my work out there, is doing more outreach in physical contexts — more physical exhibitions, more physical work, not always taking apart my pieces after shooting the photos but keeping them. I wish I would have found more of a balance between the digital and the physical. I think those mediums really complement each other. Together, they build a strong base so that you’re not so dependent on social media, because you never know what’s going to happen with it. The real work is much more stable, in my opinion.


No drone unturned: tracing the sound that unites ancient and modern


From primitive instruments and sacred chants to today’s minimalist electronica and metal, drone music has a long and mystical history. A new book investigates

Tuned in … Harry Sword, author of Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion


From the womb – where the rushing of maternal blood is heard loud and clear at 88 decibels – through myriad historical, spiritual and subcultural pathways, our connection to the drone runs deep. Many ancient instruments – didgeridoobullroarercarnyx – produced sustained tones, while the ancient Greeks evoked the delirium of Dionysus with the drone of the Aulos pipes. Indeed, religious practice all over the world, from the sacred Buddhist Om to haunting Gregorian chant, continues, as it has done for centuries, to centre the drone as a sonic enabler of meditative transcendence.

In Monolithic Undertow, I trace the drone from those ancient beginnings through the 20th century, where it underpinned sounds of many divergent persuasions – not limited to the New York minimalist ley line that linked the Theatre of Eternal Music to the Velvet Underground; the vital influence of Ravi Shankar’s sitar drone on the ecstatic jazz of Alice Coltrane and the Beatles nascent psychedelic experiments; the punk axis that leads from the Stooges to Sonic Youth; and the physical metallic bass weight of Earth and Sunn O))).

In short, the drone has bewitched for millennia, exhorting us to succumb to the joy of hypnotic immersion. Take the following as starting points in a journey that can lead you any which way: turn on, tune in, drone out …

Éliane Radigue – Kyema

Has anybody ever produced music of such beauty, emotional depth and sheer mesmeric density from such sparse elements? Now in her 80s, Éliane Radigue has been at the forefront of avant-garde electronics since the 50s, when she worked as an engineer with Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry at Paris’s Studio d’Essai, the epicentre of musique concrète. Yet her solo electronic works (starting with her hypnotic feedback works of the late 60s) were a world away from the busy field recording collages of her musique concrète apprenticeship.

Exclusively produced using the ARP 2500, a notoriously complex modular synthesiser, Radigue focused on pure drone pieces that unfurled at a glacial pace. A master of the process of creative reduction, she carves away any superfluous sound, noting frequency ratios on beautiful hand-drawn charts and arriving at an immersive sound sculpted to perfection. Kyema (Intermediate States) is the first movement of her Trilogie de la Mort – a three-hour epic informed by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, sonically mirroring the passage of the soul between life and death. Foreboding and beautiful.

Brian Jones Presents the Pipes of Pan at Joujouka

The Master Musicians of Joujouka, a group of Moroccan Sufi trance musicians from the foothills of the Rif mountains, make a joyous, hypnotic cacophony. Their sound dates back centuries, using techniques passed from father to son. Long associated with the beat poets, who gravitated to bohemian Tangier throughout the 1950s and 60s, the Master Musicians of Joujouka were introduced to writers Paul Bowles and Brion Gysin by Moroccan painter Mohamed Hamri, whose uncle was one of the bandleaders. Gysin, in particular, was captivated by the music, stating that it was the sound that he wanted to hear for the rest of his life. He later employed the Masters as house band in the 1001 Nights restaurant that he ran in Tangier with Hamri.

Hamri also introduced his friend, Rolling Stone Brian Jones, to the Masters. In 1968, Jones recorded this live album, capturing the sound of the annual Bou Jeloud festivities that celebrate the appearance in the 15th century of a Pan-like half-man, half-goat figure said to bestow fertility, a bountiful harvest and musical secrets. Each year a villager plays the Bou Jeloud: sewn into freshly slaughtered goat skins, he exhorts people to dance by whacking them with olive branches, while the music focuses on fever-pitch pipe drones, gruff call-and-response chants, ethereal flutes and frenetic handheld drums.

The Master Musicians of Joujouka strongly contest the notion that drone-based music is calming: theirs is an energetic, frenetic sound. Jones’s sensitive post-production dub effects (mainly echo and reverb) were subtle, but add to the head-twisting psychedelic density of the music.

Earth – Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine

Earth are ground zero for drone metal. Fusing the tortoise-slow crawlspace of La Monte Young-era minimalism with metallic textures, their debut album Earth 2 (1993) was released on Sub Pop during the heyday of grunge but, focusing as it did on slowly unfurling, percussion-less drones, was a million miles from the frenetic angst of labelmates Nirvana and Mudhoney.

Inspired by the churning sludge of Melvins – the ceremonial majesty of the Washington band’s 1992 album Lysol, in particular – Earth’s Dylan Carlson took slowness in the metal sphere to hitherto unimagined extremes. Down-tuning to oblivion, each ringing chord drawn out for as long as possible, he obsessed over vintage valve amps and obscure pedals, the grain of the sound taking precedence over melodic progression. Teeth of Lions Rule the Divine is the centrepiece of Earth 2 – an imperious half-hour of sheer drone power. With serious volume tempered by a distinct grace, the record paved the way for early Sunn O))) among many others on the underground, and is widely regarded the vital signpost in the drone metal underground.

Angus MacLise – Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda

The original drummer in the Velvet Underground, Angus MacLise was a true bohemian who led a life straight out of a Kerouac novel. A poet, publisher, occultist, calligrapher and producer of some of the strangest drone music ever made, he played for a number of years in La Monte Young’s group the Theatre of Eternal Music before joining – and leaving – the Velvets in 1965.

Operating within the underground of the New York underground, MacLise produced obscure soundtracks, narcotised sonic sketches and lo-fi field recording tapestries between the mid-60s and late-70s, the vast majority unreleased until his soundtrack to Ira Cohen’s 1968 underground art film Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda saw the light of day in 1999, followed by a sprawling compilation, The Cloud Doctrine, in 2002.

The soundtrack to Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda features all the beguiling hallmarks of MacLise’s sound: handheld drums, disembodied voices, field recordings of unknown provenance. Every sound source is obfuscated, covered in crackling layers of tape hiss and echo. The effect is truly psychedelic, an abyssal descent into a steaming, lotus-isle dreamscape. His discography is by some distance the least travelled of the wider Velvets oeuvre, but seriously magical.

Zonal – System Error

Pairing the Bug (AKA Kevin Martin) and Justin Broadrick (Godflesh, Jesu) on production with apocalyptic vocals from experimental musician and poet Moor Mother, Zonal is an exercise in unbearable tension and cavernous bass weight. Between them, Martin and Broadrick have explored every possible permutation of bass culture, and Moor Mother produced one of the past decade’s most intense and powerful records in the shape of Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes.

Pivoting around enveloping drones and system-rattling sub-frequencies, System Error sums up all that was special about the group’s self-titled 2019 album in four concise minutes. Broadrick and Martin’s telepathic studio energy trades on their 30-year creative partnership, intertwining layers of rich, distorted tones, and Moor Mother’s powerful flow ties the whole bleak tableau together.

Sarah Davachi – Midlands

One of the most idiosyncratic electronic producers of recent years, the Canadian sound artist creates subtle drone pieces that fuse baroque atmospherics with the warm, idiosyncratic and sometimes unpredictable tonality of old analogue synths in combination with live instrumentation.

Inspired by sacred spaces, the minimalist aesthetics of La Monte Young and Éliane Radigue – and her early access to an enviable selection of instruments and synths while working at the National Music Centre in Calgary – Davachi works in the electroacoustic sphere, augmenting rich organ drones with subtle electronic post production. Much of her work has combined rich tones from machines such as the ARP and Buchla synthesiser with organ, harmonium and piano. Last year’s double album, Cantus, Descant, was her most ambitious record yet, featuring her vocals for the first time. Midlands layers reed organ drones against distant rumbles but is also Davachi at her most melodically progressive; as emotionally moving as it is immersive.

 Monolithic Undertow: In Search of Sonic Oblivion by Harry Sword is published by White Rabbit (£20). To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.


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