For some, taking a walk is the perfect remedy to clear your head. But for artist Justin David Gustafson, it's the perfect time to fill his mind with inspiration.
"I just like to get out and move my feet. I take my camera with me and I snap photos of whatever reaches me on any level," says Gustafson. "I have a file cabinet full of the old-timey little 3x5 photographs. I'll either remember something or come up with an idea for a series or just sometimes rifle through my old photos and see what strikes me."
Born and raised in Luddington, Gustafson began painting with oils at 15. He had actually planned to focus on graphic art as a student at Kendall College of Art and Design, but it was clear to the instructors where his passion lay.
“When they were going over my portfolio at the interview they basically told me that I was obviously far more into the whole fine arts things and I should probably pursue that. I was reluctant at first and then they offered me the largest scholarship that they offer, and- 'Sold!' he recalls with a laugh.”
After graduating in 2002, he spent the better part of a decade ping-ponging between Michigan, Minneapolis, California, and back again for both professional and personal reasons. He was never without a studio space, adapting greenhouses and garages as necessary to fill his needs. He even came up with a system of adding Velcro to the back of his canvases and sticking them to carpeted surfaces as a space-saving easel system.
He moved to Kalamazoo less than a year ago to work as a sculptor with Alchemist Foundry. But an unfortunate layoff prompted him to start seeking out odd jobs to pay the bills. This led him to working for Park Trades Center, and to his renting a studio space there. It's becoming his home away from home.
"I was laid off on Wednesday and I came in working as a maintenance man on that Thursday. That's when I really sort of fell in love with the building - walking around, cleaning her, fixing up various part, projects here and there - I communed with the building, and now we have this connection," he says.
His studio is filled with vivid, but not quite lifelike paintings of carefree individuals, nighttime rooftop views, and landscapes of neighborhoods, farm and sea as portrayed through snowy winters, verdant springs, and hot summer days.
“I walk into my studio and I just get this warm feeling. A lot of the time I'm staring at my paintings while I'm painting - trying to let it tell me what it needs. And so I need that little bit of extra time for the oil to stay wet. It's thicker - it seems to glow more. You don't need to layer it so much."
He’s been fervently working night and day on his oil painting series 'If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now.' The collection is inspired by the unique aspects of houses and residential buildings in the Midwest. He says that a home's aesthetics - the shape, condition, and how it stands in its environment - are what he notices the most. The primary hues and earth tones make for a calming portrait.
"Much like a shrine to a deity would have symbols of their various aspects, our homes end up being the same things to ourselves and just by the act of living we make them our own - we make them a part of us, an extension. I paint them with a reverence, a quasi-religion sort of reverence."
Gustafson says he's settling in well, and plans to stay at the studio - and in Kalamazoo - for the time being. Next month he'll be taking his focus skyward in his new series of oil paintings focused on the moon. It's title? "I Love Luna."
Tonight marks his debut as an artist with Park Trades Center in this month's Art Hop. He'll be in Suite 207.