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The Vibrant Universe of Artist, Justin Chance

The Vibrant Universe of Artist, Justin Chance

This week in the magazine, we caught up with the artist Justin Chance. You may recognize his colourful quilting from an issue of Emergent Magazine. His artworks encompass a wide spectrum, including quilting, drawings, sculpture, video and  writing. It's safe to say that Justin is not just an artist but also a creative thinker. He defines his quilt series by stating, "In a nutshell, they were created in opposition to some prevailing ideas, stemming from a deep (albeit self-aggrandizing) desire to both silence the viewer and provide them with a space for contemplation."


As art and fashion merge once more, we have partnered with Justin to create an exclusive capsule sweatshirt featuring his artwork, 'Psalm,' from 2021 to 2022. With exhibitions in Montreal, Paris, New York, and Sydney, it's safe to say that it's been a busy year. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to ask Justin a few questions, covering topics from his morning routine to his approach to a slow-living pace and insights into the art world's inner workings.


Do you follow a daily routine that helps you start your mornings?

Actually yeah. Every morning I journal first thing (after brushing my teeth etc. )I then use this Mindfulness App and then check another app and then talk myself into or out of going to the gym. 


There’s a new project I’ve been trying out where I’ve divided a 30 inch long paper into sections and color in a horizontal inch every day and date it. So after the gym I’ll shower and make breakfast while listening to an unnamed podcast published daily (except on weekends) by the New York Times, eat breakfast,  check my email, color in a new inch of that drawing, pack lunch (if I’m being good) and then go to the studio, reading on the train. 


Who has significantly influenced your creativity throughout your artistic journey?

My parents, who every Christmas buy me art supplies.  Really early on, thanks to a Taschen book from Urban Outfitters: Peter Doig, Takashi Murakami, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons were really influential. I think when I was in middle school and high school (and they were still young) the YBA’s were a very big deal so a lot of those artists and British artists in general, Martin Creed, Sarah Lucas, Tracey Emin, Rachel Whitreed and Chris Ofili were in my head. Felix Gonzales-Torres, Doris Salcedo, Charline von Heyl, Mike Kelley and David Hammons also. 

I was a studio assistant for Angel Otero the summer before I started college and that was also really influential in terms of understanding what the art world is, production and labor wise. He gave me a painting in exchange for a tshirt I tie dyed and once we sat around and brainstormed titles for new works.  

 The mean printmakers from that one class I took during that one year at Purchase.... 


All of that being said, writers were way more important and formative, especially Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Toni Morrison, Borges and Junot Diaz –– there are others but they were kind of foundational. Oh and Ray Bradbury and Philip K. Dick. 

 Sarah Thornton who wrote “Seven Days in the Art World” which I got for Christmas in high school and read two or three times taught me about art school and auction houses, there’s even a chapter where she talks about Artforum. Most formative is maybe Karen Morris, an anthropologist and professor who I took four or five classes with in school. She's great, I think about her maybe once or twice a week. Her, Terri Kapsalis and Mark Booth, taught me it was okay to think and write all over the place. 


Given your experience with various artistic mediums, which one holds your strongest interest at this moment?

Right now I think it’s drawing. The quilts are forever, sculpture is forever (but expensive), video is whim-sensitive, but drawing lately has felt kind of game changing. I think right now I’m trying to figure out what is the best way to be in the studio and I think for some reason drawing has felt like an exciting, challenging and convenient kind of arena. It’s flexible, I can do it from a studio I set up in my apartment, it’s affordable, paper isn’t expensive and I’ve already splurged on colored pencils ten years ago, the sky is really the limit. 

As a medium, drawing possesses this innate kind of intimacy, it’s all hand and it’s all time. And still, maybe because of this, it also carries this connotation of the disposable or the less valuable. It’s vulnerable and can be, for better or worse, technically revealing. That being said I think there’s an interesting thoroughline with the rest of my work. Works on paper and quilts all have this responsibility to justify themselves and their value as “non-paintings”, and I think it’s an interesting game to play in the studio. Why am I making this? Why is this a drawing? What can this offer on paper that it can’t in any other form? 

 Also I have a lot of shame about drawing, so if there is ever one that I’m not embarrassed about, it feels extra special. 



Could you elaborate on your quilt series and shed light on the creative and political dialogues they encompass?

The quilts started in 2013 and I first showed them in a painting class I took over the winter in Chicago. I think they initially came out as an attempt to reconcile a few issues I was having trying to figure out what I want to be making. I love color and paintings but also felt really limited by the range of what painting could do….I felt sort of stunted by the ease of it, I think. All of the battles of painting kind of felt solved, it’s very simple to hang, store and justify––in that painting comes with its own ready-made value system. You don’t have to convince someone to look at a painting, everyone is kind of trained already. At the same time, I love process and problem solving and there were a lot of things in the fiber world (felting and dyeing specifically) that were exciting but that I couldn’t figure out how to use in a way that would distance it from its craft and textile design origins. It was tricky. 


If there’s anything political, I think I was getting very frustrated…in the 2010s everyone was showing unstretched paintings on canvas, nailing them to the wall and calling them tapestries and in the fiber classes everyone was dyeing fabric perfectly and wanted us to pretend like they couldn’t just go to the store and buy a piece of fabric that same color instead… Discourse wise, there were constant conversations about identity and appropriation, and everyone was so…certain and sure of themselves….and sure of who the audience was and what their thoughts and values were.  The quilts in a nutshell, were kind of against this, they came from a deep (albeit self-aggrandizing) urgency to both shut the viewer up and also give them some space to think. To kind of humble myself and the viewer…to kind of take away this idea of the definite and the resolved… to flex, to call things what they were (quilts being quilts). I wanted to assert that there was a really exciting value to being unsure and figuring something out along the way. There was a gray area between abstraction and recognition that I wanted to try and get at. I wanted the viewer to treat the work like a reader of a new sci-fi book… I had very big lofty contradicting goals and very ambiguous, myopic, and urgent frustrations. I had also just turned twenty.  


Has there been a book that notably changed your perspective on your creative practice?

There are a couple that I’ve read this year that have really changed things but Weather and Department of Speculation by Jenny Offill are the first that come to mind. Even though they’re two different books published six years apart, they are very, very similar to one another. Both novels are written in first person and are about an unnamed married mother of an only child who works in (or near) a college and lives in New York City. They’re both written in this really kind of concise, poetic and expansive style where things happen but also really don’t.  Both are great beautiful books and it’s been really nice, exciting and kind of revolutionary to realize that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You don’t have to be Toni Morrison or the guy who wrote Dune and have to innovate brand new complicated plots and characters, it’s okay to just…stick to what feels right and possible, and not be ashamed about it. It’s okay to write small, even if that means writing the same book two or three times.  

 Joy Williams (Breaking and Entering, The Quick and The Dead) , Helen Oyeyemi (Mr. Fox, What Is Not Yours), Audur Ava Olafsdottir (Miss Iceland, Hotel Silence) are all really important too. 

Is there a particular song that's currently resonating with you?

I run to Weak by Skunk Anansie when I am able to talk myself into going to the gym. 

CAN PEP REY advocates for the concept of slow living across all facets of life. How do you interpret this principle?

Slow living…I have a bit more of a rein on it now but in the past, I used to have a really big ambivalent and obsessive relationship towards time. Also I had these huge anxieties surrounding scarcity and existentialism. Everything had to be for something, everything had to mean something. Everything had to be useful or “research”. I used to say “then what?” all the time and be obsessed with planning and saving and trying to control things. I couldn’t really relax and was probably a nightmare to be around. I had this fear of being bored and this really deep sense of restlessness. But now, most of those things are kind of in check…for now at least.  Maybe befriending “slow living” has something to do with this?  In the past year I’ve been using this time to think about what works and what doesn’t anymore?  What am I so afraid of and what am I rushing for? There are only twenty four hours of the day and you can’t spend two thirds of it ashamed, miserable and guilty. It sounds like, very Mindfulness app,  but I’ve moved away from worrying about being “productive” (which I was obsessed with) and realized that everything is constructive. It’s like this new drawing thing I’ve started where I color in an inch every day. Everything is constructive…the older I get, the more I understand the way that I think and work and with that comes way less shame and anxiety. Maybe slow living is a trust thing…everything will get done eventually. And if everything’s going to get done anyway, I might as well enjoy it (and sleep more.)


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