Over the last couple of years, I have been putting together a body of work that comments on the human condition, more specifically patterns, behavior and truth that are derived from both personal experience and observations of those close to me.
What do Metal, Paint and String mean? Until now, I have been a paint purist, working only in that medium for some 12 to13 years. A tactile exploration of new sculptural materials has opened up a new and enjoyable path of self-discovery. String left a tremendous impression, especially as I began work on a piece titled Self Portrait. I was trying to integrate different elements of the work so I dyed cotton string in a variety of colors to tie the components together. In the process, I felt a profound link to string as the connector among parts of myself; I was mapping myself. Every time I sew string into my work it’s like making another connection. Over the past couple of years, I started welding Metal, which brought a new dimension to the concept of connection and form in combination with my traditional medium of paint. What evolved was a distance I kept from textural painting; I began to like working with flat Paint and the depth it produces. Recently, I have been teaching myself to draw with pencil, a technique that brings new breadth to my work. I am excited about all of the new media that I have been exploring and developing as an expression of me through my work.
What am I trying to communicate? Much of what I am working on today deals with things in my life that have been personally challenging, such as attachments to and fear of letting go of old patterns and behaviors. As I get older it has become clear that we may not be who we think we are, that we act from places of conditioning, habit and fear. Truth intrigues me. Historically, it has been easier to rationalize or bury those things I didn’t want to know about myself. In other words: confront the truth. To become whole, we must embrace both the good, as well as the uncomfortable.
Why is your work changing? My understanding of art has completely changed over the years. To me, my art used to be about making something that was aesthetically pleasing. The difference now in my work is its meaning. Meaning comes first. Artistic expression is the familiar language that has really helped me understand, to find sense. Poetry too has had a significant impact on my understanding of art. Poetry resonates for me in such a way that the feelings the words evoke are something I assimilate into my work as a means of communication and expression.
What is Southern Contemporary to you? Within the context of behavioral and social conscientiousness, my work is shifting into a contemporary understanding of art. Meaning is my priority; aesthetics will follow suit. I find also that I have more self-awareness and awareness of community about culture and society, about where we live – the South – and about the times in which we live. In the time-honored and old-fashioned tradition of storytelling, a very Southern thing, I am committed to a sort of whisper-down-the-lane campaign where people come to see my work, meet me and tell my story to others.
Justin Gaffrey May 2016