Cube Artist Spotlight: Cody Justus
Cody Justus is a Boston-based artist born in Hendersonville, North Carolina, living in Jamaica Plain and working in Chicopee MA. We sat down with Cody as he was coming to the end of his popular Big Rig paintings. We talked about starting a new series of work, being an artist in Boston, some iphone tips and why other artists rave about the corners on his canvases. Here’s Cody in his own words.
L&B: What do you try to do in your work?
C: The stuff I paint, when I look at the real inspiration, the painting is already there. I want to give it a new form, and focus the viewer’s attention on something often overlooked.
L&B: Is that the way it was with your Big Rig series?
C: Yeah, the doors didn’t already exist as paintings, but they should, and a lightbulb goes off - what I have seen, that should be a painting. It was the same way with the underpasses, the Span series. That perspective is so cool. I just paint it.
L&B: You just paint it?
C: I always start working after I know what the painting looks like…there is a mental image of it finished. Once I have it and I know what I am going to do then I go to work, like a normal job: truck driving, construction work or industrial weaving. I punch the clock and paint. So, yeah, I just paint it. I am not making this up, I think of myself as a blue-collar guy making paintings.
L&B: The Big Rig Series have ended up in major public and private collections. I love Laser! Especially that bit of orange in the lower left. You may need to explain the titles and Gladiator connection for our enthusiasts.
C: Laser is number 11. I have only one more after this. Everyone thinks I should do a life-sized one (laughs) but that would have to be a commission. The Big Rigs are named after the American Gladiators. There were 12 of them. Driving out to my studio on the Pike, especially on a weekday in rush hour there is an insane amount of traffic and I felt like I was doing battle dodging trucks like being on the American Gladiators. Man, I loved that show as a kid. That was cool.
L&B: The Big Rig has sold really well. Do you find Boston a supportive community?
C: I never expected them to be so popular; I paint what interests me. But it’s amazing and humbling to have them in museums and collections across the country.
L&B: The Big Rigs, all your works, are these beautiful minimal paintings. Who is your inspiration?
C: When I was a little kid, maybe 10, my mom would take me into the library, and she would let me pick out whatever book I wanted to bring home. It would usually be a book on whales, trees in Asia, anything that had categories. One day I saw a Jasper Johns book on the cart to go back in the stacks and it was sitting face up. It was the Target. I couldn’t believe that could be a painting. I checked it out over and over again until my mom let me keep it and paid the library like it was lost. I wouldn’t have been a painter without the Jasper Johns book – or my mom. My mom was always encouraging, super encouraging. When I told her I was quitting nursing school, the first thing she said was, “well, it was about time.” (note: Cody practiced being a nurse for 6 years)
For color, definitely Brice Marden, his early works had the best color palette.
L&B: Your palette is one of my favorite part of your works.
C: Colors in the studio are different from colors on clothing, they are building blocks and very specific to what is going on in the painting. My favorite color is grey. It can be cold and give you anxiety like a hospital bed or be warm and beautiful like a stone. You can make grey any color by matching the temperature…a warm orange or a cool blue. I started Laser in winter, so it is a really cool grey, and pretty dirty because trucks feel that way in Boston, in winter, dirty and grimy and old and beat up. (note: Cody taught us a cool trick using the accessibility mode on the iphone to invert colors.)
L&B: You are sounding less like a blue-collar painter and more like a theorist.
C: I mean, if you want to geek out and talk color theory, or any other type of art theory for that matter, I’m your guy.
L&B: So, what’s next?
C: Rugs, ugh. I was working with estate rugs, these amazing Marta Mass Fjetterstom rugs, the designs are insanely good. I am not trying to recreate a Scandinavian rug but pay homage to them using the language of weaving the way I would use that language in painting. I still need to figure out how to get there. The first rug painting took about 100 hours. I found a weird rough linen for the canvas and am experimenting with cyanotype in the same way I used pigmented iron to create the rust to imitate the language of the road. All the materials and methods are new, so the work is a little slower. The old rugs are not uniform or perfect. The little hiccups create the beauty like the notion of Japanese wabi-sabi. Maybe if I can let go some, I can make a better painting.
L&B: I have heard you are also very precise in your canvas making.
C: Maybe that comes from my nursing. I made a lot of beds. (laughs) Canvases always have to right. The object has to be perfect or it ruins the surface…what good is a beautiful new house if the floors aren’t level?
L&B: What else did you gain from your nursing career?
C: I think one thing that absolutely plays into my studio practice is the idea of patience... which was often tested during a hospital shift. I’m undoubtedly more patient and relaxed in the studio than I would have been.
L&B: Do you have the patience for some quick questions to get to know you better?
L&B: One word that describes your work? C: Clean
L&B: Favorite food? C: My grandmother’s corn bread.
L&B: Artist you would have a drink with? C: Raymond Pettibon
L&B: Favorite thing about Boston? C: It’s a young town.
L&B: Little known fact about you? C: I can’t eat cantaloupe. Hate everything about it.
L&B: What were you like in 3rd grade? C: distracted and energetic
L&B: What were you like in High School? C: the same
L&B: Music you listen to? C: Jazz, African funk, nostalgic grunge rock and punk. NPR commuting but never in the studio.
L&B: Your superpower? C: Noticing details no one notices.
L&B: Favorite restaurant splurge? C: Charred Octopus
L&B: Where do you go? C: Saltie Girl (Note: we had to take a break to debate Select vs. Saltie Girl)
L&B: Near your studio in Chicopee? C: Munich Haus for schnitzel and wheat beer!
L&B: Where would you want to take a student at the MFA? C: Slaveship by Turner. Just to look at. Then take them somewhere there is the least amount of guards and touch something.
L: Last question, what do you want our enthusiasts to know about you?
C: I am genuine, a regular guy. Come out to the studio and talk to me.