The cold, wet weather drove some artists to close early. They were packing up their belongings when I stumbled across the painter, not at all fazed by the unwelcoming weather. In fact, he was concentrating on his painting, utilizing the different sized brushes to achieve a quirky pop art painting of a blue owl.
His story starts out like a fairy tale about a Detroit suburb native with dreams of the big city. After graduating college, he made his way to New York City, the utopia of any suburban kid. He reflects upon his childhood with cynicism, denouncing every suburb as exactly the same. He loathed the mundane lifestyle and longed for a more exciting life.
He describes that his grandmother was an artist, not in the traditional sense. An artist, he defined, is “anyone that can transform an everything thing and make it into something interesting or educational.” She taught him how to make snowflakes from paper, cutting designs and unfolding them to create different patterns. This small, seemingly ordinary tradition helped Justin realize that he loved art (Justin P Interview by Alexandra Hassan).
A few people wander over to his art, either stumbling drunk or with a more determined sense. He lets me in on a secret. He says he could always tell where someone is from just by watching them, sometimes almost down to the exact city or county. He also tells me that he can tell if someone will buy a painting based on someone’s shoes. He explains that it is a helpful tool, but he further comments that “an artist must be discerning in all aspects of life.” As possible buyers peruse his art, he preaches that some people will know the value of a piece of art, that the buyer is not only purchasing the physical piece of art, but also the skill set that the artist spends a lifetime accumulating. A tattooed woman approaches his art, and proclaims loudly how talented he is. She suddenly wants to know everything about the young man’s life, taking advantage of the proximity to the artist that Jackson Square offers. After she leaves with a small purchase that she adores, Justin explains working in Jackson Square offers a different experience in that everyone is a critic. No one is afraid to voice his or her opinions within earshot of the artist.
In New York, he wanted to live life as one who walks “to witness and experience the city.” He also had to eat. After four months of searching for a job in the Big Apple, an offer at a coffeehouse appeared. A more traumatic experience emerged as the owner only hired him in order to sleep with him. He soon learned that everyone hired was fulfilling that purpose. As he did not want to take part in the at best unethical, at worst, unlawful, situation, he quit. Luck favored him as one of his friends offered him a job as a professional artist after seeing some work he kept in a garage. His fortune continued as his work was shown in well-known galleries. Soon, the gallery owner hired him as a full-time artist. Instantaneously, his day changed from burning his hands on scalding coffee and avoiding contempt from sex workers to dedicating his life to art. Shortly after, 16-hour work days resulted with New York Times articles mentioning his work.
The fame he enjoyed was not without a price. Other artists soon grew jealous of Justin’s easy fame. These artists went to the best technical art schools in the country and now looked to succeed in New York. In contrast to Justin who spent all day creating art, these artists were making contacts, networking, and buttering up gallery owners and art dealers to even have a chance. They socialized and hoped that a critic would like them enough to even notice them. The effortless cool and confidence that Justin exuded infuriated them. Justin was aware of this animosity that grew due to his “flippant attitude and easy confidence.” Everyone seemed to vie for fame and recognition, even the people at the head of the art scene. A gallery owner wanted to show Justin’s work. However, the gallery owner wanted Justin to create all new art so that he could claim that he had ‘discovered’ a new artist. By producing new art, it would showcase pieces not seen before, convincing those in the art world that he was brand new. The politics surrounding the elite of this world, drove Justin away, and to led him to embrace new goals.
Justin came to New Orleans on business eight years ago and never left. After leaving the city that never sleeps, he has been able to find a calm serenity in New Orleans. Still, he takes four months to travel, getting in his car and simply roams. The remaining eight months, he works tirelessly to make and sell art. Through this on and off work style, he has outlined broader goals for every decade of his life. First, he would like to build a house in New Mexico, already purchasing a plot of land, in the quarter square mile of a hot spring. He anticipates the construction taking two years, as he wants to build it with his hands, the true mission of a creator. In order to do this he has committed to a strict budget, which he never strays from. Now, he sees his work as a means to end. The selling of pop art is the way to obtain his dream of building his own home. Justin is and will continue to be a man with a goal and will use art to realize his objectives (Justin P., Interviewed by Alexandra Hassan, Jackson Square, March 14, 2014).