Artist of the Week: Justin Stephens

Justin Stephens graduated from the Glasgow School of Art. He currently lives and works in Glasgow. Stephens’ most recent exhibitions include Transmission Gallery in Glasgow and Green is Gold, Copenhagen. Earlier in the year, he took part in Glasgow International 2014, a solo project with Parisian Laundry in Montreal, and a group exhibition at Susan Hobbs Gallery in Toronto. Previous to this he was hosted in the Québec Triennial 2011 at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art, and had solo exhibitions at Toronto’s Mercer Union and the Darling Foundry in Montreal.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do. Mostly a painter, I am originally from Montreal and now live and work in Glasgow, after finishing my degree at the Glasgow School of Art.

What are some recent, upcoming or current projects you are working on? Well, I’ve been doing lots lately and now I’m liking going to my quiet and cleaned out studio to just sit and not think about too much. A selection of things I’ve worked on this year include a project for Glasgow International that I put together with good friends and it was a huge and exciting undertaking. I participated in an exhibition through David Dale Gallery and they presented my work at Green is Gold in Copenhagen as part of Artist Run, an international festival for artist-run spaces. More recently, I showed a collection of new small paintings at Transmission in Glasgow. Later on this year I am in a group exhibition in Lucerne and a painting show in Glasgow.

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What is one of the bigger challenges you and/or other artists are struggling with these days and how do you see it developing? Glasgow weather—nothing has developed.

How did your interest in art begin? My Aunt on my Dad’s side was a respected pastel artist and usually did hyper realistic vanitas-like drawings. She was amazing with reflections on silverware. When I was very young, I tried to emulate her work using coloured pencils, and I distinctly remember drawing apples, like my brother also did. I think it started here.

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Photo: Max Slaven

If you had to explain your work to a stranger, what would you say? My paintings sometimes look like an exercise in how to clean a paintbrush. They’re mostly a distraction from something more important that I feel I should be doing. But I never know what is more important so I continue to go to the studio. If there is any pilgrimage in my practice, it is to discover something I am already doing, and that if I recognized it it would greatly benefit me. (Modified words from March 1 – March 8, 2010)

What materials do you use in your work and what is your process like? My process and materials are rather random, and both change with almost every painting—hard to pin down, hard to remember!

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Tell us a joke. 

A car joke I recently heard:

What do you call a Lada with a sunroof?

A skip.

What artists are you interested in right now? Varda Caivano—in particular a painting by her in the “London in Zurich” exhibition catalogue.

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What’s your favorite thing about your city? The people and the abundance of rose bushes in Glasgow.

What was the last exhibition you saw that stuck out to you? Cathy Wilkes at Tramway and the permanent collection at Kunstmuseum Basel.

What is your snack/beverage of choice when working in your studio? Dry, blonde sherry with lightly salted tortillas chips at the moment (as I’m writing this).

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Photo: Guy L’Heureux

If you hadn’t become an artist what do you think you’d be doing? Forensic entomology. I quite like the idea of picking off bugs from the grill of a vehicle to determine where a person in question has been (for example).

What are you listening to right now? The sound of air vents in my studio.

Can you share one of the best or worst reactions you have gotten as a result of your work? Silence.