What is art? This is an old question — 2000 years old, in fact, if Plato was the first to pose it. I’ll not try to answer the 2000-year-old question for you in twenty-five words or less, but I can tell you what art is to me. It’s what I do. “It’s not some game I play, it’s in my DNA, it’s what I do,” sang Donald Fagen in the song “It’s What I Do.” It’s an impulse. It’s a mission. Musician Kamasi Washington’s father taught him “To whom much is given, much is required.” Nina Simone felt driven to give her gift of musical talent back to the world if just to “get it off her back”. I feel this sense of urgency as if I were indebted. So, an artist’s simple impulse becomes a drive which becomes an aspiration, and then hopefully an act of grace. “It’s deep beneath my skin, it’s what I major in, it’s what I do.”
I paint satirical cartoon portraits, even if my painting’s subject occasionally loses top billing and becomes subordinate to another character or theme I discover. I pay honor (or sometimes dishonor) to a pantheon of hero geniuses, creators, teachers, seekers, crackpots, and hangers-on, and although most of my subjects are characters from the past, nostalgia is not my intent. I would not want to paint myself into a coroner. Looking back does not always mean looking backward. The past is history and the future is mystery. We must accurately interpret the former to effectively prepare for the latter — something we don’t follow through on very well.
I paint in oils, in a cartoon style. I love the feel, look, and smell of oils, and doing new things with ancient materials is a gas. I base my color selections on a “cultural color wheel” of my own device, which includes International Orange, Hershey Brown, Coke Red etc. As for my style, cartoons are universal and I’ve always loved them. I find them to be an effective vehicle for the kind of funny/serious, stupid/smart, bitter/sweet, mythical/ hear-say, multiple-message work that I produce. If I don’t have fun, the viewer won’t have fun, and if the viewer doesn’t have fun, I won’t have fun. Provide and conquer.
My paintings start with things I’ve read, heard or seen, followed by a flash of insight occurring at a mundane moment (“solvitur ambulando”, which means “it is solved by walking”), in turn followed by a positive feeling that trips the “yes painting /no painting” switch enough for me to power up. I deliberately leave loose ends, unresolved details, and unanswered questions that only the paintbrush can work out. At some point during a painting the funnel flips, then concept becomes synthesis, synthesis becomes execution and the painting takes on a life of its own with me at its service. Then I learn what the painting is really about, with its colors, lines, forms and even subjects frequently playing several roles and sending multiple messages, and the painting moves.
Everybody likes cartoons.
Why oil paintings?
I love the meditation, therapy and handmade-ness the medium offers. I love the smell, I love the feel, and I love doing novel things using such ancient methods.
Why so big?
Symphony-size is easier to see, affords more color and detail, and has more impact than quartet-size. Impress from afar and intrigue from aclose, I say.
We have a bad habit of navigating our way toward the future with a scant and distorted understanding of the past. We can only correct this in the present, so it’s vital that we slow down and clear our heads, and review things in their actual or fancified contexts and, ideally, enjoy ourselves while doing so. That doesn’t answer the question –
You can safely assume that my subjects are to me something like a pantheon of heroes, geniuses, creators, crackpots and hangers-on, and I share what I know and how I feel about them to show you how they might inspire you as well.
What about the future?
I can’t see the future any more than I can change the past, but if we understand our past we can choose our future. I can promise that there will be lots of color and light.
Who or what serves as inspiration?
The list is long. Art: Thomas Hart Benton, Rick Geary, San Francisco poster art, MAD, Pekka Halonen, Ivan Bilibin, Disney, cave art, Renaissance, Ai Wei Wei, Donald Roller Wilson, Jackson Pollock, Picasso &c. Literature: James Joyce, Kerouac, Rumi, Cervantes, MariJo Moore, Anne Carson, A Dictionary of Miqiao &c. Music: Beatles, psychedelic, Scriabin, Shostakovich, the Schumanns, Mahler, World music (esp Mali), Arvo Part, Coltrane, Gorecki 3, &c. Others: Native culture, Buddhism, ML King, Aung San Suu Kyi, Joseph Fitzpatrick &c.
Steve Justice 93 Fonthill Park, Rochester, NY 14618 8/31/22
Phone: 585-500-8140 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org