Justin John Greene – open studio conversation
I saw Justin John Greene’s paintings in an open studio event at the Central and 15th Street studios on April 21st. I was struck by their naturalness, by what seemed to me a skilfull but not a fussy way of rendering figures. I also appreciate Greene’s introduction of the contemporary world through his use of cartoon effects and images. Rather than place these references in scare quotes, he manages to relate them to the content of his paintings. In our conversation below, Greene mentions George de la Tour as an inspiration, and this makes sense to me, for Greene’s paintings have a similar robust liveliness to de la Tour and other artists from that elder day.
Justin John Greene, April 25:
I really enjoyed reading your comments on my work. Below are my responses. I have also attached images of the paintings you saw at the studio. Please let me know if you need anything else.
Geoff Tuck, April 21:
I liked seeing your paintings today. I had a sense that you are establishing a narrative, one from the 19th Century was my guess (hard drinking men, socio-political and economic adventurers, characters singly taking on the world…), and I thought also that you are using tools first developed in film, in the early 20th Century; the long shot, the repeated close-up and other examples of techniques for establishing a mood and scene by offering viewers pieces of information through time, that then aggregate into a story, or into a
Yeah, there is a theme of dated or seasoned masculinity running through the work, informed by figures and attitudes from American history, film and advertising. And, in a more subtle way I am also trying to critique economic structures within the culture industry.
I recognize that the paintings were installed for an ‘open studio’ event, and not as an exhibition proper, yet they felt like a statement from you, there was a visual and conceptual idea to them, concise but complete.
I used arrangement of the work to create a subtext within the group of paintings. While portraits of dogs and mugs of beer might reference cliché genre paintings of dogs playing poker, by arranging the works in a specific order, I can build more sinister implications within these works. I see the dogs as a kind of victimized bystander to violence. Violence here can be interpreted in a number of ways, not merely as physical violence, but as a kind of vague, imposing force.
The larger painting of the group shows a gentleman rakishly leaning and holding a spread of playing cards, above him you painted a b/w cartoon figure – which I later learned was an animated beer stein – and there is an energetic relationship between the cards and the stein that I am curious about. The handsome, louche gentleman captured my attention, too, perhaps as someone I’d like to have been, or as a role I might someday play.
The painting is titled Cheaters, it combines the protagonist from Georges de la Tour’s The Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds, a Baroque tavern painting, with a large sketch of a hand holding a mug of beer. The style of the hand references an animation technique called a smear, which is basically illustrated motion blur. Like the animation smear, Baroque painting introduced ways of tricking or cheating the eye.
Looking at the large painting, I thought “That beer stein that Justin “cut and pasted” from the world of animation into the top corner of this painting should not work in the olde-timey scene, but it does. The strong, graphic black and white, the motion that is manifested by the blur; somehow these all feel native to his painting.” Not once did I question what I saw, Justin; or rather the questions that I did ask led me to believe, rather than doubt what I was seeing. Nicely done. Too often, juxtaposition draws attention to itself, and becomes unfortunate when one mingles eras and styles.
In your project “You oughta be in pictures” at Actual Size (June-July 2011), you used painted film sets, sculptures, and performance to replicate and take apart the cinematic experience, particularly the American cinematic experience – which amounts to our cultural and psychological history. (Quoting your 2011 pr: “Greene’s solo exhibition at Actual Size continues his tactile exploration of constructed American nostalgia.” In your term, nostalgia. How does this new body of work further your exploration of constructed American nostalgia, of USAesque?
I’m interested in ideas that are uncannily familiar; concepts of American heritage, embedded in our collective memory. I like to play with that moment of recognition because I think it puts people at ease and encourages one to spend more time looking. It allows me the space to challenge pre-conceived notions and social mores. So it’s like using nostalgia as a hook to grab your attention, but once it does, that nostalgic feeling becomes distilled and falls apart.
I am yours, with anticipation,