Justin Weingartner studied Illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. He focuses on Digital Illustration, Pen & Ink, Charcoal and Pencil illustration as his medium.
The inspiration behind his work is the stuff of daydreams, a slightly off kilter version of our own world. Strange creatures roam and shadows live lives of their own. His artwork reflects what Justin calls, the “American Nightmare”, the struggle that one finds in the pursuit of obtaining the American Dream. It is not strictly limited to Americans, but a worldly or universal dream, one that existed since the days of hunters and gatherers.
Because Justin grew up with a fondness for comics and graphic novels, his work is more than just the image; there is often a story behind it. He is currently working on his pieces for his first solo exhibition, “How Can Nothing Weigh So Much?” which focuses on creative blocks and the pieces that are created as a result of it. He resides in Brooklyn, New York.
By Lisa Salerno
What inspires you to create and what would you say are some of your biggest inspirations /creative influences (could be art or non-art related)?
I know it’s cliche but I create because I have no other choice. I don’t know where I wouldbe otherwise if I did not have an outlet for my creativity. I would never put myself on par with Kafka or Magritte but I do believe I am channeled into the same psychological frequencies that inspired them: the pessimist and the dreamer.
Ideas are floating above my head all the time and I feel like I can pick them out of the air as I walk by. I am very lucky in that respect but it’s also a compulsion (and at times, frustrating) to get all these ideas down. I hope it lasts.
I gripe about having a day job but in a way I think I need it; T.S. Eliot, Fernando Pessoa, Haryey Pekar, they had day jobs and still created substantial bodies of work. It’s like I need those pockets of time to force myself to create-work and its daily doldrums inspires a lot of my daydreams. What goes on inside me is very important. Looking inward is my exploration, I find a lot of good bits in there. Emotion, psychology and feeling is a huge part of my work. Much of my work is inspired by the struggle in pursuing the “American Dream”.
Honestly, it would be silly to say that our current political climate doesn’t inspire my recent work in some way. I have a piece called “Sad Monster”-it’s an image of creature standing alone crying. The story behind it is that she is upset because she’s just not as scary now that Trump is in office. That’s the one plus of a poor political environment, great work comes out of it even if the turds currently in the White House don’t understand it because it’s something that’s not tangible or what they consider “profitable”.
I also find I am very inspired by reading & music. Sadly, I probably don’t look at as much art as I should because even art you don’t like can be inspirational. The revival of Pop Art is a bit of a sore spot. Sure, it’s pretty to look at and there’s a nostalgia in the people and characters that are sometimes used but it’s really superficial. It’s pop music-you can’t sink your teeth into it. Sometimes you have to take art you’ll enjoy into your own hands. I set out to create work that I would like to look at if I can’t find something that inspires me. Hopefully other people will want to look at it with me.
Lastly, discipline-wise, I am very inspired by my wife who sings with a jazz trio and hosts burlesque shows for a living. She is doing what she loves and she worked extremely hard to get where she is; gigs come to her now, so that in itself is incredibly admirable and if I might add, really sexy. I look to her work ethic as a means to get where I want to be creatively.
I notice on your Instagram you tend to list whatever song is currently in your head onto your posts. What role does music play in your life and in your art?
Attending Art school in New York really opened my ears to new music. Before that my musical scope was fairly narrow. I used to go with friends to a small venue Tramps quite a bit. It’s sadly no longer open but we caught anything from Yo La Tengo to the Lounge Lizards there. There’s also an intimate Jazz Club, Smalls in the West Village which would have live music until the sun came up.
I’d say 95% of the time I have music going while I am making art. Some people smoke a J, some people meditate; music is my drug (incidentally, I have a t-shirt with this quote that my wife bought for me) & my meditation. When I listen to certain music my mind and my body travel to great places. It’s probably the closest I have come to what one can call a Zen moment, where I am completely devoid of thought and the mind is just quiet.
There’s a song by Atlas Sound called “Quick Canals”-when I listen to it, I get lost for eight minutes and it’s wonderful! I read a study where it said people stop listening to new music at 33. I think that’s total BS. I love hearing new music; it’s definitely a great way to open up windows of creativity.
I just love the psychological aspects of your art. The way you capture things that are sometimes difficult to describe with words such as the feeling of anxiety (with the man tying himself into knots), and sometimes these feelings or states of being are invisible monsters such as in “Everything We Never Say Is Sitting Right Between Us”. Do you agree that sometimes the purpose of art is to make the “unseen” seen?
First off, thank you, I really appreciate that. I definitely believe in what you say but to piggyback on that, I think it also stems from wanting to speak in the best voice I possibly can. I am not an eloquent speaker by any means. Art is my best voice. For example, when I discuss politics I feel like I am just spewing liberal rhetoric; I’d rather draw my thoughts instead. What I can’t say well, I put to paper and I find what I am conveying is better stated. When you speak you don’t have the advantage of editing; with art you can rework what you say all you want until it’s right. I also think, like most artists, I am an extremely emotional person so that make me very in tune with unsaid feelings & psychology. Art is a release of feeling which you can’t always see. By illustrating what I am feeling helps me (and others hopefully) understand that feeling. And by placing the feeling outside of myself, I can try to let go of it. It’s cheap therapy. It’s fantastic and humbling when someone who has seen my work says, ‘Oh, I felt like that before.’ It’s nice knowing you are not alone in your feelings and that what I am expressing makes sense.
As a side note I really like creatures and sci-fi and use those elements to express unseen fears and anxieties.
I hope it’s not presumptuous of me saying this but it’s kind of like the work you do based around autism. You are giving voice to those who may not have one or may not be able to convey what she/he is feeling. I thought the Curious Incident of the Dog at Midnight was an incredible book, just absolutely eye-opening to how an autistic mind functions.
Before I sit down to paint I have this little ritual. I put on music and burn some incense, then play freely in my sketchbook for a few minutes before moving onto canvas. Would you say that you have a ritual to get your creative brain going or are you able to just get straight to work?
That sounds really nice, actually. I usually work best in the morning before the stuff of the day takes over my brain. Most days I am awoken by our cat, Bird (who clearly has her own ritual) but sometimes I am awoken by an image in my head. Those are the best. Coffee is definitely part of my ritual. Mornings are for working out the image that woke me up or something that I scribbled down on a piece of paper the day before. This is really the only time I don’t have music on as it’s too early and I just like the quiet of the room. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes, sometimes two hours. The time isn’t important-it’s the fact that I am doing it.
Recently I have been trying to make creating part of my regular schedule. Back in January I took an online course with Jessica Abel, who teaches techniques for creative focus. I highly recommend it to anyone who has fears and doubts about creating or has trouble with sticking to projects like I do. Check it out, http://jessicaabel.com. She offers a lot of free advice through that website and her e-mail blasts. It’s the first time in my life I have ever had a datebook and kept track of my habits. Through it, I set time aside for making artwork. It’s been really beneficial cause I used to be out with friends and be
thinking,“I should be making art right now.” and when I was making art I was like,“I should be socializing more.” It’s a total disrespect to your personal life and your creative. life. It teaches you to be more present in all you do, not just creating. I have my first solo exhibition in October so it’s been really positive for that. I can’t always fight the muse but having a regular creative routine doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I also learned not to beat myself up if it doesn’t happen when I want it to. Shit happens, so make adjustments when things get in the way.
I am also interested in your process and am drawn to the sometimes-lengthy titles in your work. It is almost as if the titles are channeled first, and they inform and inspire the work. Would you say that often your titles come first, or do they usually come after the fact?
It varies. One usually inspires the other. I really enjoy writing flash fiction which are stories that are 2 pages or less. My art has more illustrative leanings, where I am attempting to relay an idea into one image so it’s similar to flash fiction in that respect, encapsulating as much as I can into a single piece. Then the writer in me takes over to come up with the title but, in truth there is no necessary order.
“Everything We Never Say Is Sitting Right Between Us” started as an image. I saw the creature and the woman in a stain on the coffee machine at my job. Then I started thinking about couples close to me who don’t communicate with their partners and how it just creates this growing tension. That’s where the words come from.
Another piece started as a thought:“My heart is a dead mouse that the flies still eat from.” The image was created from that thought. So to answer your question it can go either way. I like the process of mixing words with images. Someday I would love to do a collection of illustrated stories based on my flash fiction, combining words & images.
Anything else you’d like to share?
First, thanks so much for doing this interview with me.
Second, separate the art from the artist. Looking at my work you may think, ‘Damn this guy is a miserable bastard.’ But it’s not true at all. I am a total nerd and love making other people laugh. I am in an incredible relationship, I have a loving family and have a fairly positive outlook on life. I try not to take myself too seriously. I like Zoolander as much I love an art film like Holy Motors. I love reading Asimov as much as I love Camus but I’m definitely not the guy Stephen Merritt wrote about who “smokes clove cigarettes and drinks vermouth”.
Also if you are in the New England area come check out my solo exhibition, “How Can Nothing Weigh So Much?” October 5th at 42 Maple Contemporary Arts Gallery in Bethlehem, NH (shameless plugging!)
Connect with Justin Weingartner