Working it out: Justin Vining in Transition
On March 4th, Justin Vining’s show “Coming Home” will be make its debut. Those who have followed Justin’s career will notice in these new works a shift in technique so distinct it might be better termed, in Justin’s words, a “pivot.” He explains, “It’s an interesting point in my career, because I’m changing. It’s a very public evolution. Through a lot of self-discovery and self-awareness I’m trying to become a better technician, a better painter, and I’m trying to get closer to my ultimate goals as a creator.”
This series could also be described as the most sophisticated and “serious” of Justin’s body of work over the past five years of his full-time artistic career. For that reason, it is a testament to the amount of progress Justin is making in style and subject, encapsulating four “generations” of concept development. Having grown up on a farm that has been in the family since the beginning of the twentieth century, Justin seeks to “capture the essence of the family farm that’s disappearing from the Indiana landscape.”
The Indiana farm takes on many forms and variations in this series. Two artists who have influenced him recently are George Jo Mess and Robert Kipniss. These two artists depicted the countryside with a balance of simplicity and description that is captivating for Justin. He showed me a particularly prized original by Kipniss depicting a lone building just beyond a rolling hill. Pointing to the simple gradations of light enveloping the boxy structure of Kipniss’s barn, he repeated, “Light, medium, dark, light medium dark….There’s almost like a time component [with the sophistication of this piece]—you can’t fake sophistication. I think sophistication and style are developed through years and years and years of practice. And what you’re seeing in my body of work and why it’s so diverse is experimentation, switching gears. There are individual aspects of so many of my pieces that I love, even though lots of them are experimenting with totally different approaches to the same subject.”
He may not have reached a level of sophistication equal to a Mess or a Kipniss yet, but that’s what makes “Coming Home” so fascinating; in one show, it is possible to journey along with Justin as he wrestles with the next phase of a more mature artistic direction. The first and second generations of the show include some barn structures, but also the cottage-like structures typical to previous work. What makes them different is that Justin highlights the geometry of these buildings by excluding windows and decorative elements so that all that’s left are walls, a roof, and their shadows. It wasn’t until the third generation that he made a breakthrough: a red barn structure with a purple roof and the interplay of primary and complementary colors between the bold colors of the barn and the “opaque, bruise-y shadow tones” of the background. Justin feels that this piece is onto something, although he admits he can’t quite describe why he sees a future there.
In phase four of this series, Justin plays with multiple forms and structures. This is evidenced in one piece in which two barn-like structures and a silo in purple-clay tones sit in a twilight-soaked landscape. This was another breakthrough piece in terms of trusting his instincts and stopping before he over-described the subject matter.
Outside of neatly delineated phases, there are a lot of “outliers” in this show, in which some of these paintings move from explorations in color-soaked geometrical structures to highly detailed paintings of real farmhouses to fantastical images reminiscent of earlier work. The largest and most personal piece of “Coming Home” is a painting of Justin’s family farm. As a document of a real place so intrinsic to Justin’s personal history, there’s a realism and warmth to this painting that feels unique from much of Justin’s work. Throughout this series, the trademark isolation in Justin’s work remains; and yet, as the capstone of the show, his family farm painting feels like a resolution point. His past work demonstrated that Justin can render the imaginary; but it’s this piece that provides an opportunity to showcase his ability to take the viewer to a real place--to his home.