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Gavin's Underground

June Gallery Stroll: Justin Nelson-Carruth

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2012-06-18 -
This month, you may have noticed Gallery Stroll to be rather hot, and rather deserted; probably because it was rather hot. It's true, June has been kind of a bummer because the crowds didn't want to drag themselves around in the extra-humid conditions that swept into the city overnight. To which I say ... grow up, you pussies. First it's too cold, now it's too hot -- in four months, it'll be too windy and orange. You live between a desert and a mountain range; deal with it or move.
In any case, this month we made our way over to Cathedral Tattoo, where Captain Captain Studios resident artist Justin Carruth was on display for people to check out on the art-covered walls. Today, we chat with Carruth about his art and career so far, as well as thoughts on local art, all with pictures of what you'll see on display this month at Cathedral.

Justin Nelson-Carruth

Gavin: Hey, Justin. First thing, tell us a bit about yourself.

Justin: I have spent the past last six years working with various mediums, just looking for that thing that clicked for me. I seem to always bite off a lot more than most people, including myself, think is possible -- for example, creating 48 paintings for my first solo painting exhibit at the Finch Lane Gallery. Most recent is my exhibit at Cathedral Tattoo. It turned out to be a big project. For this show, I had just decided that I would make block prints. I was watching artist Sri Whipple carve a block and I thought that it looked like a fun process. Thus, an entire exhibit developed and before I knew it I was learning how to make prints. This kind of impulsive medium switch really does define who I am as an artist; it says a lot about my process. Now that I've been working out of a studio for almost three years, I'm gaining a lot of perspective to how multiple mediums are necessary for me.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some of your early inspirations?

Justin: I realized that art, specifically painting, could be a highly emotional and reactive engagement for the viewer when I first saw paintings by Francis Bacon. Bacon was definitely one of my first early inspirations. Hands down, Bacon's paintings just scream with abrasive subject matter, very intuitive and gestural brush work. This was a simultaneously interested/inspired moment, the first time I felt that I could "read" a painting. You know, his technique and structure of the work seemed so clear to me: following aggressive brushwork leading into areas of the painting that appear overworked and highly textured, falling out into smooth, almost underdeveloped, flat fields of color that establish the background Lilke the background was an afterthought. The point is, I had never read a painting before. I was so connected to the emotional current between Bacon's brushstrokes. Bacon was telling a story much greater than the image itself. The paint was handled like it was sculpted, the paint itself a part of the composition. Perhaps he let intuition guide his brush -- it might be total drunken madness or perhaps completely sober deliberation and emotional creativeness. Whatever Bacon was doing, I had never asked these questions before that moment. That was the point I wanted to do more with my own work and had an interest in pursuing art.
Gavin: Rather than take the educational route, you're a self-taught artist. What persuaded you to learn on your own rather than persue a degree in art, and what was it like for you learning on your own?

Justin: It just happened. I actually applied to and visited the campus of Northwest College of Art in Washington state while I was still in high school. It really seemed like art school was the path I'd pursue. At the last minute, I stopped the application process and told myself I'd go to school another time. From there, I just kept making art. Learning on my own is really all I know. However, I'm never entirely learning alone. The artists I've surrounded myself with are my teachers, whether they know it or not. I read a lot of books about painting. The paintings I'm inspired by are my teacher. Most of all, I just try my hardest to be in the studio whenever possible. The process teaches me. Diligence is the most important tool. Sometimes, though, it seems like it takes me a year to learn something on my own that a teacher could have probably shown me in a week. I can't even comprehend what I might have lost or gained from a degree. I do hear other artists say that academia is great for networking and helps in bridging the gap between artist and gallery. I'm still just not sure what is right for me. If someone told me today that I was accepted to a painting program, I might do it. There is a chance that I would complete a degree someday. Being a self-taught artist is not how I define my work or myself. I'm just moving in the direction I see most clearly at the moment and it's been challenging.
Gavin: During this time,what pushed you in the direction of oil painting and creating more conceptual works?

Justin: In all the mediums I've experimented with, I realized that I was ultimately trying to make a painting. Meaning that I was taking mediums like photography, and in the darkroom melting my negatives before printing. I wanted something tactile, evidence of my hand in the work. A friend and I also worked with 8mm movie film that we were developing ourselves. We would intentionally scar the film and alter it. I just knew that painting would better suit my needs. As far a conceptual work goes, I think the Finch Lane exhibit was the most conceptual I've been and I don't think that process will stick for me. I'm just not sure I've got another idea like that in me at this time.

Gavin: A lot of your work is taken from your own photography and then reworked into a textured rendition of the original. What influenced this particular style and how have you adapted it over the years?

Justin: I enjoy the ability to quickly capture a moment with a camera. The moments from photographs that I choose to paint just can't be created for me with live models and still lifes. I've adapted this by letting the photo work as a guideline. I tend to quickly work outside of the information provided in the photograph and spend a lot of time making it my own. Even though my paintings strongly reflect photographs, if I were to put the reference photo up with the final painting anyone could quickly point out the changes made. This style was simply influenced by what I found necessary to make a painting. A lot of painters work this way. But, I have been known to do a still life. Also, the first self-portrait I made for my exhibit at the Library last January was done from my reflection in a mirror. I just thought it seemed inappropriate to do a self-portrait from a photo.
Gavin: What's the process for you in creating a new piece, from the initial idea to the final product?

Justin: Usually, I just look through old photos I've taken and it's usually the ones I've had a lot of time away from that start to speak to me. I rarely take a photograph with the intention of painting it. Rather, I treat my camera like a point and shoot and just snap away whenever I feel like it. When I find an image, or images, I just start painting and decide how to edit the subject as I go.

Gavin: Do you tend to play around with your paintings a lot, or when you have an idea do you stick to it all the way?

Justin: I absolutely play with my paintings a lot. Even the work that ends up looking clearly resolved goes through a lot of development. Some of the new work I've started is looking very playful. I'm finding that I don't really like having an idea first. That is how I work sometimes, but for now, I just want to have a good back-and-forth connection with my paintings and let it go wherever it is that it's headed.
Gavin: How did the opportunity come about to move into Captain Captain Studios, and how was it been for you working in that kind of creative environment?

Justin: The opportunity to move in was when my friend James Randle needed to sublet his studio while he went to Arizona for the winter. I had never worked in a painting studio before and found this to be a great time for me to see what it was like for me to take my artistic practice to the next level. When James returned, we just shared the studio and I've been there ever since. If I hadn't moved in to Captain Captain, I'm not even sure what I'd be doing right now. Seriously. That studio is such a big part of my life. What the hell was I doing before I moved there? I don't really know. Being surrounded by the folks at Captain Captain motivated my decision to work hard and work as long as possible in a day. I think I'm the only one in the building with a day job. Everyone else is a full-time artist or takes on art-related jobs. That is what I aspire to be doing, as well. Watching the artists in my building blows my mind. I've never been so inspired by a group of people.

Gavin: Unlike a lot of SLC artists, you don't do a lot of exhibitions around town, or at least not as frequent as others, and tend to make your displays a special event. What made you decide to do that and how has it worked out?

Justin: I really would like to exhibit more. The events are special because there are so few. I made a promise to myself that for the first two years of exhibiting I would not show the same painting twice. I wanted to keep people's attention by making new work for every show. Now things are balancing out. I have some work that just sits in my studio and this will enable me to do a few more exhibits a year because I can just start hanging whatever I can find. In addition to a growing stockpile of work, I would like to have at least one special opening a year with entirely new work.
Gavin: Tell us about the works you have on display for this month's Stroll.

Justin: This month, I'm showing prints I made from linoleum blocks. I find that in painting I tend to work with photo realism and I really wanted to do something graphic -- line oriented and high contrast. Block prints just seemed to be the best way for me to do so. The limitation in block carving shaped the ideas and content of the images. I like letting the tools kind of dictate what I do. So, the prints on display at Cathedral are all new and heavily inspired by my fascination with tattoo imagery.

Gavin: What are your thoughts on being displayed at Cathedral Tattoo and working with them?

Justin: I think that Cathedral is quickly becoming one of the best spots in town to have an exhibit. Working with them is quite easy. Everyone there is professional, reliable, and open to displaying just about anything on their walls. I'm honored to be displayed there and feel grateful to have those guys backing my work by providing an amazing venue.
Gavin: Moving on to local art, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?

Justin: I've seen some of the best art in the country in SLC. Our scene is growing rapidly. I'm not sure if there has been a change or if I'm just seeing the scene anew, but there are big things happening. Artists are making this city their own, and I feel that the Utah art scene is getting louder. It takes a lot to be noticed as an artist in Utah, which I hope means bigger risks on our end. I like being an artist here. The bad side? Well, it would be nice to have about 100 more galleries in SLC. Aside from that, I find Utah to be pretty ideal in terms of cheap workspace and the best people I've found anywhere.

Gavin: What's your opinion on Gallery Stroll today and the work being displayed each month?

Justin: Again, I just wish that we had more galleries. The work speaks for itself, and artists displaying it are just the few of many in this state who work really hard to make the scene happen. It would be nice, I guess, to see more work from out-of-state artists. I don't really know, though; being a gallery owner or curator is not my thing.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?

Justin: In July, my wife and I are doing a residency at The Leonardo. We have set up our studios there and also run a great workshop that involves color pattern and basket weaving. The Leonardo will have more information on its website. In August, I'm showing paintings at a Evolutionary Health Care at 461 E. 200 South. Early next year, I'm having a solo exhibit at Fice, located in the Guthrie Building at 160 E. 200 South.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Justin: Someday, I'll have a website at JustinNelsonCarruth.com. The way it's been going, it might still be minute before it's complete.


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