Works on LPP
★ MEET N‘ GREET ★
Jess Wheaton interviews Justin Richel.
1. I understand that you were born in New Jersey and now live in Maine. Can you tell us about your feelings for the East Coast and how living there has influenced your development as an artist? How did you arrive where you find yourself today, in terms of location, lifestyle, and art practice? Is one thing more responsible for who you are today than anything else?
I grew up in a mostly rural area in NJ and spent my youth exploring the wooded areas near our home. When I was 13 my family moved to the woods of northwestern Maine, and again I spent a lot of time hiking and enjoying nature. I later moved to Portland (Maine) to attend The Maine College of Art where I received my BFA. Portland is a great little city and it has a great community of talented artists. I met my Lady Shannon in Portland and we later spent two winters in Provincetown, Massachusetts because I had received an artist residency there at The Fine Arts Work Center. Our time there was spent in the company of artist and writers of (more or less) like mind. It is located on the tip of Cape Cod and during the winter months it’s a ghost town. Which made it a perfect place for holing up in the studio. It was a glimpse into the lifestyle we wanted to lead. It afforded us the time and space to create with out interruption and it was this combination of things that allowed me to really hone my skills as an artist and craft my vision. Shannon and I now live back in the northwest mountains of Maine. The peace and quite, beauty and foliage are inspiring and provide the right mix for our creative juices. Nature seems to be the key ingredient.
2. I’m curious about the painting course you completed at a Franciscan Monastery in 2004. Please tell us about it.
I am so glad you asked about this, looking back it is probably one of the best things I ever did for my art. It was a introduction to iconography painting class taught by two Franciscan monks from Italy and Lithuania who spoke barely a bit of broken English, so the whole class was taught through an interpreter. Being a visual person/learner I was able to pick up on the techniques by observing the movements and subtleties rather than waiting for the interpreter to catch up verbally.
I had always been a big fan of Iconography (specifically Russian), as a young kid my family and I would go to a Russian Orthodox church. If you have never seen the inside of one I strongly suggest having a look if you get a chance to. The Iconography literally covers every surface imaginable. I was really drawn to the quality of the paintings. They are very stylized and simplified but are completely mesmerizing.
My art aesthete before taking this course was very different than it is now. I was not the painter that I am today. I was very unsure of my ability and completely raw and messy. I was always aspiring to paint like I do now and by taking the course I was able to apply those skills to what interested me as an artist.
3. You excel at painting stacks of objects, especially sweets, birds, and president’s heads. What’s the allure of the stack format for you? Do you remember your very first stack?
The stacks for me are about the precarious balance, they allude to the fragility of circumstance. For instance the stack can only exist so long as all of its pieces are cooperating together, to shift or remove a piece would inevitably send the whole thing crashing to the ground. So the paintings themselves become social commentary. I try to draw parallels between human interaction and the stuff that we surround our selves with.
I guess I have always been stacking items, paper coffee cups, suit cases, paint cans, etc. I guess I am fascinated with how far I can push it until it collapses.
4. I worked at a library with a picture file until recently and would come across all kinds of magazine clippings of strange 70s jello casseroles, fantastical bundt cakes, etc. Where does the imagery of your desserts hail from, and what has inspired your devoted and luscious exploration of them? How long do you labor over these intricate works, such as the globe painting?
The Sweets series is an attempt to anthropomorphize something that is manmade in order to talk about society with out having to point the finger directly. I choose sweets because they are very unassuming. On the surface they are very attractive and make friends easily but if you really look at a cupcake (for instance) you will see that it is wearing a mask. It is loaded with calories and trans fats and does not have its’ hosts best interests in mind, it clearly has its own agenda. I try to create situations where they become human in their context to one another.
They also allow me to spend a lot of time detailing each one, which is my weakness. The more time I can spend painting tiny details the happier I am. I typically spend about a week of 8-12 hour days on a medium sized (22in. x 30in.) painting. I am currently working on a 5ft. by 5ft. Globe, which seems to have no end in sight.
5. How do you feel/what do you think about the current state of the art market? How’s it been for you?
The art market is a funny thing. I think many artists would agree that there are a lot of old ideas about what is expected of an artist and how and where they should display their work. I see those old ideas breaking down more and more as the internet grows. Artists are able to reach a wider audience making their work more accessible to art appreciators and galleries alike. There is also an ongoing blurring of art and craft, taking place, which helps narrow the gap. It’s an exciting time to be an artist.
I’ve been pretty fortunate in my art-making career, I can’t really complain.
One thing I have discovered is that Europe is more supportive of the arts. They have a long history/relationship with art and art is a deep-seated part of European culture. Americans can take it or leave it.
6. What’s the source of your drive to make work? What do you feel is your main source of knowledge, and main source of creative reserves? Lastly do you have a secret project, a huge aspiration, or a "before I die" list you want to share?
The drive to make work is a hard thing to express. I feel like it’s more of a compulsion. I need to see on paper what is going on in my mind. It’s a way of communicating and a process of self-discovery.
I tend to exercise the feelings that I have when I think about the things that are beyond my reach. Sitting down and making the work is a form of meditation, and through this process I am made whole.
I do have a secret project, but I don’t think I’m ready to share it just yet, sorry :)
My huge aspiration is to do everything I said I would do and before I die I would like to know that I enjoyed my life.
Thank you so much Jess, these are really great questions and I had a lot of fun answering them!
Thanks again Justin for being a part of Little Paper Planes with your letterpress print.
Justin Richel is an artist whose main focus is painting complex and detailed compositions that range in content from Desserts, men with wigs, presidents and birds. These works share a common theme of an underlying social commentary. He received his BFA from the Maine College of Art, in Portland, ME (2002) and studied the technique of Icon painting at the Franciscan Monastery, Kennebunk. He now resides in the northwest mountains of Maine, with his lovely girlfriend Shannon and their adorable kitty. Justin has exhibited his work throughout the U.S. and has also exhibited work in Switzerland and Germany.