Artist: Justin J Smith
Exhibition: Stay Golden
Media: Paint on canvas
Gallery: Gatov Gallery East
Justin J. Smith is a graduate student in the School of Arts’ Drawing and Painting program. He is from Akron, Ohio, and moved to the Los Angeles area when he came to CSULB for school. He grew up very close to his family, as his extended family all resides in Akron, and is naturally very family oriented. Throughout his life, he has been constantly influenced by his families values and interests, so his mother and sisters’ interest in art caused him to discover his passion for painting. Although he is far from his family, he enjoys living out in Long Beach because of the ability to go to nearby beaches, and visit cool spots in LA. In his free time, he likes to draw, paint, play with his dog, and go to the beach. His work explores the maxim, “there’s no place like home”.
All of his work consists of large portraits, and include bizarre shapes and colors to draw the viewers eye in. It all consists of paint on canvas, and includes both vibrant and dull colors. The offset of a bland brown and a neon pink cause for quite the shock to the eye of an observer, and that’s exactly what he intends to do. Each piece has the use of gold coloring to unify the elements throughout the artist’s series. The gold is meant to symbolize the feeling of belonging, which is intentionally ironic due to the fact that the feeling of belonging is independent of economic class, and the color gold implies wealth. Red is also included to represent Justin’s passion for the art that he is creating, and the experience he is going through. His thesis has a Byzantine and somewhat Egyptian feel with the bizarre shapes he uses, the lack of mixed colors, and the consistent use of gold. All of the paintings are relatively big compared to the size of the room, about 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide (or reversed).
Simply put, his artwork is about human nature’s strive to belong. The artist himself stated that his work is, “reminiscent of a traveling circus… not a quest of financial status, but a journey firmly rooted…” Humans have a natural need to feel like they belong in order to have some sense of security in their life. The artist creates the work due to his own desire to feel secure in a foreign area, when he used to feel so settled in his hometown surrounded by his close family. He is trying to have readers make a connection to some aspect of the work that reminds them of their own security and what crowd they feel they belong to. In order to have viewers make connections to their own life, the eye must be drawn in initially, and Justin does so by intriguing viewers with vibrant shapes and colors. He wants to make the viewer happy, but also make them reminisce and question whether or not they are secure in life.
I sympathize with the artist in the sense that we all have trouble feeling like we belong at times. Every time I have moved, which is a lot of times, I have a moderately long period of time where I don’t feel comfortable, and feel like I don’t belong there. The first time I moved, it was from California to Chicago, and I didn’t know a single person except for older cousins, so it took me a few months to make strong friendships. After that, I moved back to California and knew some people, so the transition wasn’t as difficult, though I still had a period of about 4 months where I felt as if I didn’t belong. It is a process that everyone goes through, especially once kids leave their home for college. Justin just misses being home with his family and his artwork is a healthy way for him to channel his emotions and feelings into something he is passionate about.