THE PETER PAN PAINTER
It’s not often that you interview someone and they tell you they’d prefer not to live past the age of 50 or 60. It immediately became clear that Justin Lee Williams isn’t your average 30 year old. Both charismatic and undoubtedly intriguing, Justin happens to also be an incredibly talented artist (for want of a better word).
“I hate the word artist…I normally just say I’m a painter because people jump to the conclusion that you’re some sort of house painter or home decorator and I’m totally fine with that. I think it’s just the stigma. It’s like every weirdo and washed up moron is an artist, or a musician or something like that” Justin explains.
“I don’t care if other people call themselves that…there’s definitely other painters and artists that if they go and call themselves artists then yeah, they definitely deserve to. They sell their work for millions of dollars. If they cant then no one can. But there’s a massive spectrum between just calling yourself that.”
Justin is preparing to relocate overseas. First to New York City, where he is doing an exhibition at the Art 3 Gallery in Williamsburg, and then off to Europe. He’s currently biding his time living humbly in a caravan in Lorne on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road before he swaps the constant sound of waves with the never-ending sound of honking horns in the Big Apple.
“I like being in the middle of nowhere, so I think Brooklyn is going to be a bit of a challenge for me like that, but it will be alright for a little while.”
“I’m not sure how long I’ll be there for. I’m probably only going to go there for like three months and then go over to Berlin for a while. I’m mainly going because I’ve just signed up with a gallery in Brooklyn and I have got a show next month there. I’ve sort of just figured I can get a studio pretty cheap in Williamsburg and it’s kind of a mix of the market here being quite small and clicky…I mean Australia is great, I love it, I’ll definitely always be here but I feel like the European market gets my work a lot more.”
Justin’s is both a painter and sculpter. He cemented his reputation through the underground Melbourne art scene before moving into commercial galleries and is a regular exhibitor at the Anna Papas gallery in Prahran.
“It was very DIY and organic. Anyone that would let me show my paintings, I would go and if they were cool and fun to work with and I would just go and put my paintings up.”
“I guess it’s the same thing as the surf, skate and underground culture. It’s nothing really new but it’s something that then took on a different form. Bigger galleries listened to what was going on in terms of the artist run spaces, and then you get to approach it differently because you know that you have a voice and these people are forced to listen to what you have to say.”
For his age, Justin is almost considered an infant in artist years. Yet the value of his art paints a completely different picture.
“I guess in the art world I’m pretty young…so it’s just a matter of making the point that I work a lot harder than everyone else."
“You’re an emerging artists until you’re in your forties or even later, and then you become a mid career artist and then an established artist when you’re pretty much on your deathbed” he explains. “It’s a long process.
But it would appear that age is just an insignificant number to Justin Lee Williams and he is as sure of his art, as he is of himself and everything that he wants out of life, whether that be a short or a long existence.
“Perhaps maybe I’ve got more drive to work and do things because I don’t really have that much interest in growing old. I might peak a little bit younger but I don’t feel like I want to live until I’m 80. I’m happy to go when I’m like 50, 60. I’ve already made up my mind with that.”
“I’m not saying I’ll be finished trying to achieve. If you think that you’ve got an outcome in terms of what you’re trying to produce, then there’s really no point in starting it. It’s sort of like a drug. You never really feel like you’ve finished or you learn something through each work that you carry on to the next one.”
“I feel like once my body starts to give out, I’ve had my time. I don’t feel attached to living beyond that. It might sound a bit morbid but it’s not. I’ve always really felt that way. I feel like I’ve got certain things to do while I’m here and once they’re done I’m good to go.”
FINISH THE SENTENCE…
I would never wear... Someone else’s jocks. Because I just got in that situation on the weekend. I did and I felt really weird about it. I felt like that was crossing a line. So I guess I would wear someone else’s jocks, but I won’t do it again.
As a child... I loved to make houses and castles out of milk cartons and I loved to eat the glue in the macaroni mosaic shit that you made in kinder. It’s probably why I’m a washed up acid freak.
The best advice... is to do whatever you feel like doing at that exact time.
If I had a dollar for every time I got told... I should cut my ear off…you’d be really rich? Yeah for sure, I feel like that’s the Australian database of art history. Who was that guy who cut his ear off? Chopper?
My vice... would be my dog actually. I got really upset when I nearly had to put him down last week. It made me realise how much he is the one constant in my life that’s an actual living thing. He’s like a studio assistant and goes through the highs and lows with me, whilst not doing anything but sitting in his bed.
My best asset... is probably my fingernails. They’re just really nice. They’re different. I’ve got really long, fat fingers and they’re like a little hat that they wear.
If I weren’t a painter... I’d probably be a farmer…of goats. But not to eat them, just to make cheese.