20 March 2009


Vermont based artist and illustrator Justin Reed has become an underground sensation for his bold film caricatures and distinct mural painting style. An uninspired portfolio began a return to film and pop culture as the epicenter of his inspiration and the results have been nothing short of spectacular. Justin has the ability to take the fragments of an 80s childhood and beautifully render them in a fashion more stunning than our own memory can carry. We see our own relationship to iconic film and pop culture played out in acrylic paint. Now, his work is exhibited across North America and privately commissioned to film buffs worldwide.

A few days removed from posting his work, I got in contact with Justin to answer some challenging questions about inspiration, storytelling, his favorite movie and how Marty McFly influenced his artistic imagination!

Where does your interest in movies and pop culture come from?

I’ve always had an interest in movies. I enjoy becoming invested in a story and watching one unfold. Certainly I’m drawn to the visual aspects of movies, which I think can share a lot with figurative painting. Watching how shots are composed in terms of composition, camera angles and lighting definitely attracts me as a visual artist.

Did growing up in the 1980s encourage your interest in adventure films and the action hero?

Many of those characters that emerged during that time such as Indiana Jones and Marty McFly have become very iconic. When you’re a young kid with an imagination I think it’s exciting to live out the adventures they had in your head.

At what point did you begin expressing your interest in film in your art?

I first started seriously focusing on films as a subject about four years ago. I had a portfolio I wasn’t terribly satisfied with, so it began as an attempt to create work that I enjoyed doing. Again, I’ve had a longtime interest in movies and the possibilities for the variety of images I can draw from that are endless. Just because they’re all based on films doesn’t mean I’m restricted to painting any one thing. There’s a tremendous variety of themes and situations to work with.

ow did your current painting style come about?

My stylistic approach to painting is just something that has evolved over a period of time. I’ve made conscious decisions about what I want to exaggerate or reduce in working with the figures or characters. A lot of it also comes from looking at other work throughout art history, both past and present, and seeing what I’m drawn to and how I can bring that into my own work.
Can you take us through the process of creating one of your murals?

With the private commissions I’m generally given some type of outline of what the client wants. They may just give the title of the movie or in some cases something more specific. I then take the information they provide and generate a sketch to the scale of the painting. The purpose of this is so the client has a clear idea of what I’ll do with the painting. Occasionally I need to make revisions to the sketch before it gets to the painting. Once the sketch is approved I then transfer it onto the canvas with carbon paper. I’ve found it to be helpful to paint the background elements first, as this better informs the color relationships once I get to the characters. I’ll cover the entire canvas just to see how the image pulls together. When I have that then I can focus on tone and hue and tightening things up. Every painting presents its own challenges along the way.

Your attention to composition suggests a kind of storytelling in each work. How do you go about including the important aspects of each film?

This probably goes back to my training in illustration. The challenge it to tell some kind of narrative with a single image. Based on the amount of creative freedom I have, I try to incorporate what is essential in representing the film. This may be done by rendering a specific pose or incorporating important props or settings. Whatever is needed to serve the painting.

In a celebrity obsessed culture, your caricature style seems to pay homage to characters and not the actors who portray them. How do you make this distinction?

With the movie-themed paintings I feel my primary responsibility is to the film itself. I’m much more interested in the characters than the actors who portray them. That’s not to say I’m not careful about capturing their likenesses, but since I’m depicting a particular film I feel I would serve the painting better to focus on expressions and body language.

You obviously have a keen interest in the films of Quentin Tarantino. What about his work lends itself to your style of portraiture?

To be fair I did do Pulp Fiction for myself a few years ago, however both Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs were done as private commissions. I do enjoy Tarantino’s films a great deal though. His characters are very distinct and unique, which I think translates very easily to my stylistic approach.

In contrast to the graphic nature of vintage movie advertising, contemporary movie posters are often made in the same generic model. Do you think a return to original portraiture and artwork is something the movie industry should consider?

Absolutely. I think there’s a unique quality to illustrated posters that can’t be replicated. I’ve always admired the work of artists such as Drew Struzan and Bob Peak. I think they create the images that stay with us years later. In particular I am more interested in seeing work done by the human hand as opposed to a computer.

I'm wondering if you feel pigeon-holed by your association with film subject matter when your artistic talents reach much further than that?

To an extent there's a degree of expectation that I focus solely on films. There are times I'm asked which films my non-film paintings are from. I've jokingly said I need to put a disclaimer on those. On the other hand I have work coming up depicting television shows and musicians, as well as wholly original work. In the future I think we might start to see a developing interest in other concepts, whether or not they're based in pop culture.

You've been professionally exhibiting your work around North American since 2006. In what direction do you hope to take your talents?

There so much I’d still like to do I don’t know where to begin. Certainly I’d like to continue to exhibit my work in galleries. There’s an incredible thrill with being able to get out in the world to meet the people who respond to my work. Exhibitions also allow people to view the work in person, which is ideally how I feel it should be seen. Ideally I would like to have a solo show so I would have the opportunity to generate a body of work specifically for that purpose. Illustrating theatrical movie posters would also be a dream come true. I couldn’t imagine a better feeling than walking into a theater and seeing one of my images. I’m also interested in creating prints of my work in order to reach a much wider audience.

What's your favorite movie?

For a long time my favorite movie has been Kramer Vs. Kramer. I’ve always felt the relationship between Dustin Hoffman’s and Meryl Streep’s characters was portrayed with a tremendous amount of honesty. Dark City is a very close second. Go figure that I’ve never painted either of these.

Click HERE to see more of Justin Reed's work

Leave a comment and let Justin know what you think!


Krylord said...

As my eyes stream over the many murals, I (as Justin puts it) live out, in my head, the adventures these characters had.

Many of these murals are of movies that I tend to have a fondness for. But if a client were to only given a title of a film and expect me to make a painting out of it, that would be a tough task. I would almost insist on them to give me a particular scene or theme that they would like me to follow or portray.

If I could ask a question, I'd ask one based on the private commissions, if he'd ever gotten a request to make a painting for a movie he does not particularily enjoy, and if it would make the task any more difficult to do.

If I could have one of these murals done for a film, I think I'd choose the film Tremors, no doubt about it.

Justin Reed Art said...

I've been fortunate so far to work on paintings that I have an interest in doing. Most of the time I try to find a way to approach something so it would appeal to me as a viewer. In the case where it was something I had no interest in doing, I always have the option to decline.

Krylord said...

"The option to decline" Hehehe
I certainly hope whatever the future has in store for me, I also have that privelege. I don't think anyone likes to HAVE to do something that they don't want to do.

D I X O N said...

My interview with Justin was recently featured over at Creep Machine as apart of their ARTIST OF THE DAY feature.

Check it out here:


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