In this series, we get to know the Artists behind the work with ten questions about their practice, their space, and their ideas. These are their stories.
Justin Mezzapelli is a multi-media artist interested in domesticity, multiplicity and queerness. As an illustrator, writer, and filmmaker, much of his practice magnifies the ordinary. Currently working with pointillist ink illustration, his images depict activity of everyday life, suggest an attention to time, and reference media of the public domain. He seeks to reframe identity within the ever-present mundane. Justin holds a BFA in Integrated Media from OCAD University.
Where are you from and where do you live currently?
I was born and raised in Whitby, Ontario, where I still live.
When did you develop an interest in art?
I think I’ve always had an interest in art, at least in creativity and detail. From a young age I focused on how things appear. Once I discovered the sketchbook, I realized I can create my own images, my own worlds, and I am free to make things appear in whatever way I imagine. This was probably around ten or eleven years old.
You work across a variety of mediums, yet recurring themes bound your oeuvre of work together. How has your interest and use of different mediums evolved throughout the years?
The evolution of my explored mediums comes out of curiosity. I always try to let the idea find its form, rather than the other way around. When you seek out the best way to illustrate an idea or concept, I think you naturally find yourself experimenting with many mediums and materials. It’s not always the easiest approach for an artist, as the culture has its way of wanting to put you in a box, label you ‘this’ or ‘that’ type of artist. I do not enjoy that box very much. I have to create with absolute freedom. Even so, it seems that I can track my work in phases. Right now a large portion of my practice involves pointillist illustration. Over the past six years I haven’t returned much to this type of work, as I focused quite heavily on film and video projects. And while I remain working in all these mediums, it’s quite lovely to take some time connecting to my artistic roots, sitting down with just a pen and paper.
Your use of perspective in the series, ‘A Gaze Embedded, Despite the Design’ is fascinating. What inspired it and is film/television a big part of your life?
Cinema is definitely a big part of my life, as much of my inspiration for any type of work I do is extracted from there. The series emerges from a period of time when I watched many films from the 1960s and 70s (using the opportunity when stuck inside as the pandemic ravaged on). I was thinking especially about women characters and how the domestic sphere is represented on screen. I’ve always resonated so much more with these kinds of narratives than others. In this series, I take isolated moments from these films where I thought the gaze of the character herself spoke, instead of dialogue or the audio track. Displayed on vintage televisions, I bring them into ‘the home,’ just as I had received them myself. What interests me are the layers of the filmic image, and in what context it presents itself.
What are you currently watching?
I’ve been watching the third season of the Italian drama My Brilliant Friend. It’s a fabulous show. As for films, I have a box filled with small pieces of paper, each with a title on it, and when I don’t know what to put on, I pull one out. My best friend and I have a great time with this. For fun just now, I pulled out The Colour Purple (1985).
How does your immediate environment influence the type of art you make?
It pretty much entirely influences the art I create. I am incredibly stimulated by what I see, even (and maybe especially) the mundane, everyday things. Both as topics and as materials my immediate environment informs what I make and how I make it. Going through junk drawers, listening to the washing machine, or noticing the people I walk past on the street, all these experiences fill my notebook with ideas.
If you weren’t an artist, what would you be?
What are you working on at the moment that you can share with us?
I just finished a commissioned series for a new office space in Toronto, depicting detailed sections of my body. Currently, I am working on a collection of abstract vistas. I’m still very early in the process, but my goal is to remove myself from the realm of the representational and work spontaneously. I hope to have some of these available on my Partial platform later in the year.
If you had the ability to create anything, without time or money being a factor, what would you make?
I would definitely make a feature film. That kind of project has probably the most barriers, but my creative partner and I are always thinking, searching, and manifesting.
You’re having a dinner party, what three people, dead or alive, do you invite?
I’d say one of them would be my best friend, Brigitte, but who am I kidding? We’d be hosting together. So I would send invitations (very nervously) to Meryl Streep, Andy Warhol, and bell hooks.
Rent or purchase Justin’s work here.