Q & A with Schoolhouse resident Justin Orvis Steimer.


C & P: What artists (living or dead) inspire you or have helped to shape your painting/drawing style?
Justin: Roberto Matta was the first artist whose work really captivated me. The environments he was able to create, the way the shapes, lines and colors all interact with each other. The way you can go into his painting and wander around. Later some of the other surrealists really struck me, Tanguy and Ernst, again for the worlds they created and their combination forms, mixing abstract with figurative, giving me the feeling that anything is possible. Now I really believe in the collective consciousness, that we are all the same and all connected, we all inspire each other. The strongest inspiration from another person I have gotten recently was when I heard Nico Muhly’s music for Benjamin Millipeid’s Two Hearts. The combination of long sustained notes with repetitive yet slightly changing rhythms was so enchanting and seemed so familiar, it re affirmed that artistically there is always room to grow and continue to learn and that it is possible to make the old new again.

C & P: What is the first piece of art that you encountered that had an impact on you?
Justin: In 3rd grade I saw a Mondrian painting in Pittsburgh. When I got home I sat down at the kitchen table and drew a square on a piece of paper with a marker and thought my drawing could be in a museum some day, if someone ever found it.

C & P: Have you always been creative? Did you know that you would be an artist from a young age?
Justin: When I was young I wanted to be either an artist or a fighter pilot. It turns out that the navy only selects people who can see well for flight school, so pilot was out. I always knew I was an artist, I have only just recently fully realized that I am living that dream.

C & P: What is influencing the work you are making right now?
Justin: Really trying to create something that no one has ever seen before. Drawing life in a manner that will cause someone to make a connection that would never have been possible any other way. Right now is the most important time there will ever be, anything is possible, for my work there is nothing more important than documenting this energy.

C & P: Does being in New York City inspire the work you make?
Justin: I love New York. I spend a lot of time walking around and drawing in its subways and parks. I hear the train go by when I am painting in my room and the sirens while I am playing the organ. I am part of it and it is part of me.

C & P: Tell me a bit about your process when beginning a new piece. What inspires you to start a new piece?
Justin: I feel a constant compulsion to create. There is nothing more sacred to me than my drawing. This belief has made it possible to realize that there is tremendous value in the generally overlooked action of scribbling. This is what I have devoted my life to. Scribbling. Every drawing and painting begins this same way, with the idea being that just like sound can be etched in to vinyl, so too can energy be drawn onto paper. How the scribbling evolves throughout my life and where it will lead is the motivation for doing it.

C & P: I noticed that you utilize many different types of materials to create your work (wood panels, traditional canvas, sketchbooks, scrap paper, bedsheets, etc…). How do you decide what paper/surface to use for a particular art piece? Do you often experiment with materials? Or is the selection of materials mainly based on how you are feeling at the moment you begin working?
Justin: I bought a Moleskine sketchbook in 2005 and fell in love; the size, the paper, the pocket are all great. I haven’t found a book i like better so that decision is easy. I am currently on my 16th one. For my other work I like to start with something that already has some energy, a history. A couple months ago I found a large, flat, thin, smooth square of wood on the sidewalk near my house. It had a lot of scratches on it which I spent hours studying and imitating. Now you can no longer tell which marks I made and which were all ready there. It makes the viewer have questions about everything about the painting. I poured on paint and varnish (gifts from friends) and water and let them all mix. The wood soaked up what it wanted, some of the escaping air got trapped and made bubbles, the past life of the wood influenced these events. Then came the decisions of how much to change what has happened and what to leave alone. Man vs. nature. Destiny vs. free will. That painting is titled going in to get out. Most recently I have been sewing together scraps of muslin that my mom sent me. I have a couple frames that were given to me by Mark, my upstairs neighbor, which i stretch the fabric on. Thoughts of both of these people are in my head as I work, plus the fact that they had direct physical contact with the objects means that their energy is alive in the painting. That painting is titled thanks mom.

C & P: What other activities do you enjoy pursuing when not making art?
Justin: Just this past week I started going out to the Rockaways to surf. This is something I have wanted to do for a long time and I am excited to finally start going often enough to be able to really learn it. I spent literally all of my money on a wetsuit and a used surfboard. I now have 38 dollars to my name. I have always told myself never to worry about money, it always comes when I need it and the important thing is happiness not my bank account. I have also just started baking bread. I cooked in a restaurant for five years but we bought our baguettes so I never learned about yeast and starters and all of that. Two weeks ago I bought three packets of yeast and looked up a simple recipe and now I bake a loaf almost every other day. It really is quite simple, it just takes a bit of time for the dough to rise but it smells all yeasty and delicious while that is happening so it is a pleasant wait.

C & P: Does making music influence your painting practice?
Justin: Sometimes the only thing I want to do is sit down and play the piano. I don’t know what is going to come out but it is just like drawing, I just let my mind wander and start pressing down the keys, then maybe a certain rhythm or pattern emerges and sounds nice so I go with that for a while, then I want to change one of the notes or my fingers forget what they are doing so I play around until i find a new arrangement that makes me happy and I go with that for a while. It is its own thing as well as another way to think about painting. Making a big splash on the canvas is smashing your hand down on the keys. Drawing nice clean lines is playing a simple melody one note at a time.

C & P: You told me that you usually make music for yourself (and most often by yourself) and you also seem to be drawing constantly. For you is art making a solitary process? Do you ever collaborate with others? Are you a solitary person?
Justin: I definitely prefer working alone and enjoy my solitude. Occasionally people will ask to paint or draw with me and I always say yes. I also always feel a bit uncomfortable while doing it. My painting titled do something began with me and some friends getting out some frustrations by making a mess with paint. For me it wasn’t complete until I was able to go back and work on it alone for a few weeks. I was happy to have my friends finger prints and sweat on the canvas but i felt that to be able to understand it better I needed to refine parts of the mess. I do think it is good to get other people involved occasionally to keep things new and diverse but I will always do most of the work myself. Musically I do not like the pressure of someone else relying on or reacting to what I am doing. Most of the time I do make it for my self, I don’t care that no one else hears it. Every now and then I will play with people around but it makes me a bit nervous and it influences the music. I have been playing the guitar for over 10 years and I still struggle to play any song correctly the whole way through. This makes it hard to play with other people. Recently however my roommate David and I have been making these kind of tribal sounding, meditative songs. They are a combination of my electric organ, synthesizer, and acoustic guitar, mixed digitally with David’s beats and sometimes Mariette adds some vocals. That has been working because we are not concerned with the outcome. No pressure. Just like my drawing, if a mistake happens it is either embraced and left alone, or worked on until it becomes something new.

C & P: What could you imagine doing if you did not create art?
Justin: Traveling through outer space.

C & P: Where can we see more of your work on the web?
Justin: Here.


Justin will be showing his work this June at:

ps project space
548 w 28th st., suite 328

vip preview: wed june 20 from noon-8pm
opening: thurs june 21 from 6-9pm
gallery hours: june 22-27 open noon-6pm
closed sunday and monday

Invite here.

Photos © Christine Navin. Do not reproduce without permission.


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