The Tastemakers: Ian Sternthal

Ian Sternthal is showing us around the bright, airy displays of the Sternthal Books pop-up shop at Espace Pop. He picks up an eye-popping, colour-drenched book – Jericho Moon –  and holds it out in front of us. “I love this one,” he says, flipping eagerly through the glossy pages. “It’s very different from anything I have ever seen. The artist’s work is about healing energies, so he does these urban acupuncture projects where he’ll consult with witches and find energy blocks where he can install his works. It’s very psychedelic.”

Ian is tall, dark, and hip, mostly exuding an air of nonchalance that completely melts away once he begins to talk about art. Born and raised in Montreal, he launched Sternthal Books in 2010, a publishing company based in the Mile End whose mandate is to spread social messages through a visual platform. As he escorts us from book to book – some published under Sternthal, others not – he talks quickly and excitedly about each one, like a young kid eager to show off his new toys.

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Ian’s appreciation for art is all-encompassing, and it shows. “I love books, because making books incorporates all the things I like: graphic design, writing, curating,” he explains. “It brings everything together.”

Although an artist himself, Ian has spent more of his career on the sidelines, an art scholar and aficionado. While completing his graduate studies at The New School in New York, he found a publisher willing to publish his thesis – a personal book about Israel’s transition from a social utopian fiction to a physical state. However, he learned a harsh lesson in the cutthroat world of publishing. “They were very exploitative, I had to sue them to get my money back,” he explains.

“I love books, because books incorporate all the things I like: graphic design, writing, curating. It brings everything together.”

Thus marked the beginnings of Sternthal Books. When Ian broke the news to the artists featured in his book that it would not be published, many came forward with other pre-funded projects. “Ever since then, it has been extremely busy,” he says.

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Ian now splits his time between Montreal and Tel Aviv, and his time in New York has given him a unique perspective on the international art scene. “Montreal is much more diffused than New York and Tel Aviv,” he explains. “But what’s nice about Montreal is it’s less about status. It’s a very down to earth place with a lot of creative people.”

Even though Montreal’s creative climate is relaxed, Ian shows no signs of slowing down. The latest Sternthal effort, Hana, features dozens of autobiographical portraits of its mysterious namesake, plucked from the trash by Israeli artist Hagar Cygler. The photos are both eerily familiar and impersonal, its subject like a distant relative one only knows through photographs. “This woman was documenting herself at a time before Instagram and selfies,” Ian explains. “We live in a world so inundated with images, and so it becomes interesting to re-appropriate them.”

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Ian plans to continue spreading messages of social consciousness through digital books, and is currently at work on several diverse projects. “I have very strong political beliefs,” he affirms. “Not just in the political sphere, but in terms of identity politics. I believe art is an important tool in giving disenfranchised and invisible people their own voice when the world hasn’t.”

Find out more about Sternthal Books here. Photos by Matthew Brooks.