With its smooth edges, glossy cap, nondescript barcode, and electric blue background, you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking Nathan Levasseur’s drawing was pulled from an introductory advertising textbook. A second look, however, will instil keener viewers with a different sentiment — after all, “Everyone Changes” isn’t exactly your standard
“At first glance, the colours, and the composition are pretty straightforward,” says Levasseur. “After a while though, you might be unsure of what’s going on, and that’s where the depth of my work comes from. It’s about not necessarily being able to read it right away.”
In spite of what his portfolio may imply, Nathan Levasseur is not a mass manufacturer, a marketing consultant, or a brand manager. He is a student at the Univeristy of Alberta, who is currently working towards his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design + Intermedia. With only a few classes remaining, Levasseur has reached the bittersweet last leg of his U of A journey, where the line between looking back and forward seems to be blurred.
“It’s been a weird program that’s for sure,” he says. “The professors have been supportive, but there’s not a lot of focus on contemporary work, or a desire to look (at styles) outside of those which are typical to Edmonton. Which can be frustrating.”
Frustration is a feeling likely shared among many of his peers, Levasseur suggests. With ambitions that sometimes feel beyond the scope of artistic practice at the U of A, there becomes an undeniable allure to explore more taboo topics elsewhere, outside of the city’s borders.
“I definitely want to do a Masters of Design, but it won’t be in Edmonton,” he says. “The university seems to produce a lot of work in a similar way, and I feel most of what I look to is coming out of New York or Toronto. Because I’m not specifically interested in the U of A’s style, it’s been hard to find anything here in the city that connects with me fully.”
The style which Levasseur alludes to will be familiar to long time Edmontonians — it’s that “‘80s abstract, impressionist steel sculpture you can see all around campus or the city,” he says. “It doesn’t necessarily shoot out at you or anything, but that’s very U of A.”
When comparing the aesthetic of Levasseur’s personal works (which are almost exclusively digital), to those which are common throughout the university, it’s not surprising that swaying others to come around to his style hasn’t always been easy.
“I still haven’t convinced people the things I do are interesting,” laughs Levasseur. “A lot of times I will present an idea but by the end it will be something totally different and really pulled back. For almost a year, I didn’t make a single object. I would just do the digital drawings, which made it especially difficult to convince people. But usually once I explained the theory behind why I specifically used digital, it was okay.”
All of this isn’t to say the U of A and its teachings haven’t had a significant impact on Levasseur’s abilities, or the way he approaches his work. Theory is a specific element which, thanks to his coursework, has become what he calls “the backbone of where (he) gets started,” and it was through the “giant reading list” provided by one of his professors that he was put onto a major component of his image-making, typography.
Leaving academia for the working world will undoubtedly force Levasseur to face both unknown obstacles and unanswerable questions. It’s at this early stage in his career that the choices he’s made in school, and the skills he’s worked to develop will be put to the ultimate test.
“I think it’s necessary to be a jack of all trades,” he says. “That’s how I’ve tried to focus my education I want to have a strong background in fine arts, but also represent myself in a way that’s easy to engage with and makes sense — as an artist, you’re going to need to present yourself digitally on a website, and people want to look at something that’s nice and easy to read.”
This is easier said than done of course. While his particular form of visual artistry may come naturally, branding, and finding ways of presenting his work to the public is still an art form that Levasseur has yet to master.
“I really have no idea how to engage in it,” he says. “Clearly it’s a part of the industry, but there’s lots of things that I’m too unnerved by or anxious to get behind, like using 800 hashtags. There are times I will wish I could get more freelance work, but how do you do that? Is it by doing weird self-promotional stuff? I don’t know if there’s a right or an honest way to approach it. You just do it.”
With his work, Levasseur invites audiences to embrace that which isn’t immediately clear, challenging them to consider and reconsider what’s being presented in front of them. Now, on the verge of graduation and without a clear path to follow, it’s his turn to welcome uncertainty.