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Art & Life with Justine Turner

Today we’d like to introduce you to Justine Turner.

Justine, please kick things off for us by telling us about yourself and your journey so far.
I’ve been tearing things apart and putting them back together since I was kid. I remember spending weekends at dog beach hunting for driftwood with my mom or at the Kobey swapmeet scouring piles of junk for Dremel drill bits to spend my allowance on. About five years ago, I moved back to town after college. I was kind of depressed and felt adrift, living alone for the first time and working jobs I didn’t care about. I signed up for a woodshop class on a whim and just fell in love with it. The smell of the shop, the sounds, the risk of losing a finger… Building something, watching it take shape in front of you and being able to hold the day’s efforts in your hands is the most rewarding feeling. I built a coffee table, then a stool, a jewelry box.

A friend of mine hooked me up with a small wood-shop that was looking for help. I was definitely in a little over my head. I remember the first day I took the monstrous work truck to pick up a bunch of lumber out in La Mesa. The guys who worked at the yard stood around and laughed while they watched me try to figure out the mystery of ratcheting tie-downs. I was so frustrated and embarrassed, I cried. I didn’t even want to go back to work the next day. I’m pretty tough but I wear my heart on my sleeve. Well, I did go back the next day and every day for a year and a half, but it wasn’t the last time I shed a couple tears or a little blood over a project there. When I left that job, I realized that I’m much happier creating in my own space and at my own speed. Cabinetry, it turns out, is not really my thing and neither is being at work by 8am. I’ll always be grateful for that opportunity though… I learned so much about the craft and about myself.

These days I’m working out of a small garage in North Park. It’s tiny but it’s perfect and it sure beats setting up my chop saw over the kitchen sink in my studio apartment.

Can you give our readers some background on your art?
I build functional art, mostly from wood. I love when I can repurpose found materials and salvage what somebody else might think is just junk. Old furniture, metal odds and ends, antique hardware, all this castoff stuff has a story. At one point someone found them worth the time, worth the money. My first big projects were a series of Ouija board coffee tables from vintage tables I found for free or next to nothing on Craigslist and in thrift stores. I designed the tabletops digitally and transferred them with acrylic medium. I love every single one of those tables and seeing them in the wild still feels really special. I come back to that style of project a lot, it’s a fun one and designing and transferring the graphic is really meditative. But the beauty of working in my own space is that I can function like an artist, not an employee. Without external pressure to create something specific, I can switch gears whenever I like. If I want to spend the day pouring concrete for planters, I can. If I want to set my whole pile of scrap wood on fire or stain it with fabric dye, I can. There is a huge amount of freedom in not being afraid to screw up.

I’m always inspired by resourcefulness. I see something I like the shape or character of and wonder how I can accomplish it for my own purposes in my limited space. My style is quick and dirty, projects typically start impulsively, linger in “what the f@#$ am I doing” territory for a while and then come together in a way that’s still a little mysterious to me. Traditionally, I think woodworking is a really meticulous craft. It takes a lot of patience and attention to detail, which are two traits I haven’t quite mastered. I definitely have a kind of cowboy approach to getting stuff done. A friend and mentor always told me “six up, half a dozen down”, meaning “there are plenty of ways to get it done, so pick one and get started.”

What responsibility, if any, do you think artists have to use their art to help alleviate problems faced by others? Has your art been affected by issues you’ve concerned about?
At a time when there is a literal island of garbage floating in the middle of the ocean, it’s therapeutic to take something that’s on its last legs and turn it into something beautiful. When there’s so much pressure to be successful and a very specific dialogue about what success looks like and how its manifested in what we own, I just want to get away from that. Some of the most outwardly successful people I know are also the most miserable, the most stressed, the ones most afraid of loss and failure. There’s nothing better than feeling like I’ve already got exactly what I need and if I don’t, I can have it after a trip to the hardware store and a day or two in the shop. Creativity and resourcefulness have allowed me the luxury of bucking the system in so many ways. I identify less and less with that constantly bubbling anxiety of “Do I have enough? Am I doing it all right?”, because I have plenty and whatever I’m doing, it feels pretty damn good.

I can’t speak for an artist’s responsibility to the community because everyone has different motivation for expressing themselves. Without a doubt, I’ve got a responsibility to myself to create. It’s become an integral part of my overall happiness and mental wellness. When I feel anxious or empty, which isn’t infrequent, I know I can get in the shop and throw some tools around and leave in a better headspace. Friends have told me that they find me inspiring and it makes me feel like a fraud. I’m like, “Anyone can do this! Go buy a nail gun!” Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t be afraid of getting dirty, of asking for help or ignoring it. And always wear eye protection.

What’s the best way for someone to check out your work and provide support?
You can find me on Instagram at @laphroigianslip. The work is there, along with a hundred pictures of my dog, Zero, who is the cutest but least helpful shop apprentice ever. Recently, I’ve taken on projects for a couple local bars and restaurants. Del Sur Mexican Cantina is serving up tequila tasters on some walnut flight boards I made last month. I’m also working on some bar storage for a new spot opening soon, Clara in Carlsbad. Check them out, admire the woodwork, tip your bartender! Also find me at the El Callejon swap meet at Bread & Salt in Barrio Logan on September 8th.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Seth Marquez

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