untitled (Separate Yourself From the Animals), 2013.

Untitled (Separate Yourself From the Animals), 2013. By Justin Nissley.

Guest post by Justin Nissley (2001 Scholastic Awards winner) whose art is currently being shown in a group exhibition at the Taubman Museum of Art until January 25. Justin received his BFA in Studio Art at Virginia Tech, and now resides and works in New York City. He was also a part of our first artist-and-residency program, the Atelier, in the fall/winter of 2011.

New York City is a great place for an artist to live. There is so much to see and do, and artists can visit many local galleries to get their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the art world. I think going to look at art is one of the most important things an artist can do, other than creating it.

My art for the past 7 years has been figurative, and mostly painting portraits. I’m drawn to the face because I’m constantly surrounded by people, and each person is fascinating in his or her own way. Recently, I started doing charcoal drawings of people in gas masks.

Untitled (Separate Yourself From the Animals), 2013.

Untitled (Separate Yourself From the Animals), 2013.

I liked the imagery because it hides the face and because of the implication of what it means to wear a gas mask. Gas masks are created from fear of the air, which constantly surrounds us. I collected images from a variety of sources ranging from WWI to the present, and I chose charcoal because many of the images I collected were in black and white. Also charcoal is dust, which is something a gas mask would prevent one from breathing in. I have been working on the series for some time now, and have made around 40 drawings (my goal is 100). I want to make a lot of pieces to show a varied effect, and be able to present my best pieces in the collection to galleries once I am finished. Finding places to showcase your work is a difficult process because many galleries receive tons of submissions all the time, and they can’t show everything.

Recently I had a studio visit with my old mentor Ray Kass, Professor Emeritus of Art at Virginia Tech and founder/director Mountain Lake Workshop. I worked as his studio assistant for two and a half years while I was living in Virginia. It is so helpful to have someone come and really critique your work, because you can see what works and what doesn’t from an outside perspective. When I showed him my new series, one of the pieces of a dog in a gas mask (pictured below) jumped out to him and he said that he had to include it in a show he was curating at the Taubman Museum in Roanoke, Virginia!

Untitled (Separate Yourself From the Animals), 2013.

Untitled (Separate Yourself From the Animals), 2013.

Sometimes knowing someone can really help get you into the right places in the art world! Needless to say I’m very excited to be included in the show and flattered that my piece was chosen. This is my first museum show, and I am so proud of the work I’ve been doing (so are my parents!). It has really helped keep the fire lit in the studio and I am continuing the series with gusto!

So, if you find yourself in the Roanoke area, check out Ambiguity and Interface: Art Across the Spectrum at the Taubman. The show is currently open and runs through Saturday, January 25, 2014!

Happy Holidays!

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