EK Interview: Justin Van Genderen

art blog - Justin-Van-Genderen - empty kingdom

Independence Day (the Roland Emmerich movie, not the national holiday) won’t ever really happen.  Why you say?  Is it because we’re alone in the universe?  That’s just downright incorrect.  Is it because Will Smith is too old to plausibly to begin a career in the Air Force?  I wouldn’t write that one off before the fat lady sings.  Is it because it’s absolutely unlikely that a virus configured using a Macintosh will be compatible with whatever unknown platform the alien invaders will be using?  Wrong again, that’s three stikes, I’ll tell you.  It’s because of Justin Van Genderen. He has lazer beam eyes, he makes the Flash look like slow motion, he eats boulders and drives with his eyes closed.  And he would fuck an alien invasion all up.  No joke.  Read his interview, I dare you.

Tell us about yourself, where are you from, what made you want to become an artist?

I was born and raised in New Jersey in a town called Prospect Park. I started doodling at a fairly young age but found a lot of artistic inspiration and motivation through film and comic books. During middle school I discovered Photoshop and found the tools and aesthetic of computer aided design very appealing.

Did you go to school for art?  What did you study?

I studied art at Calvin College, a small liberal arts school in West Michigan. I took a wide range of art courses, including classes in painting, drawing, sculpture and design, and graduated with a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) degree.

art blog - Justin Van Genderen - Empty Kingdom

Why do you think maximalism is such a popular style in advertising today?  Do you think minimalism will come back?

I think maximalism is pretty popular these days for the same reasons that the Transformer movies are so popular.  Both incorporate new technologies to create images that are visually complex and amazing; worlds that we have never seen before. However, these new and fancy elements are not a substitute for good design (or good film making). Good design is not dependent solely on style – it’s a marriage of ideas and images. It is creating a connection with the viewer and making them see or think about themselves or the world in a new way that makes a lasting image. Sometimes that means more visual panache and less thought provocation and other times it is the opposite. As far as minimalism making a comeback, I certainly think that it’s a possibility. I’ve already seen it popping up in a lot of different movie posters and advertisements. But I’ve never really been good at predicting the future, if I was I would probably play the stock market a bunch more.

You seem to dip into both minimalism and maximist styles in your art, do you prefer one to the other?  How does your approach differ  when you’re working with each separate style?

I don’t think that I really prefer one style to the other. Lately I have really been enjoying playing around with a more minimalist style but what excites me most is when the end visual matches the desired goal. When I create different designs, I work backwards from a feeling I want to have about the piece.  What I enjoy the most is when I can create that feeling regardless of which style I use.

My approach towards each style doesn’t really shift all that much. For both, it starts with a lot of pre-visualizing/sketching. The most important thing with either style is finding what visual will work best with desired end product.

art blog - Justin Van Genderen - Empty Kingdom

What inspired your minimalist depiction of the planets of the Star Wars movies?  Which was your favorite of the six movies?

I was inspired visually by Simon Page’s astrology series. I also drew ideas from old Art Deco style prints and vintage science fiction posters from the 1960/70’s. The idea for the posters came to me after re-watching the original Star Wars trilogy and thinking of how old these movies must seem to the newer, younger generation of Star Wars fans.

My favorite? Empire, all the way.

Can you tell us about your series “The Space Race”?  When did you think of the idea?  What were you doing when it came to you?

The space race series was born from a combination of looking through old Life magazine pictures and watching documentaries on the subject. Most of my personal projects come from a sudden strong obsession with something. A while ago, Google uploaded a large catalogue of old pictures from Life magazine. Many of these were of the early days of the space race. I was drawn to the history and politics of the Cold War era and the aesthetic of that period.  I was also really inspired by the old grainy images of the space race, because they give a snapshot of people in that era experiencing the fear and excitement of space exploration for the first time. So, I ended up watching any documentary I could get my hands on that covered the subject. While watching the documentaries I started to work on the series of posters. The USSR, or Cosmonaut series was done in the style of Futurist propaganda posters and the American, or Astronaut side was inspired by layout styles of old Life magazines.

art blog - Justin Van Genderen - Empty Kingdom

What research did you have to do for the Summary and Objectives section of the series?  How did the knowledge you gained change (if at all) your approach and perception of the series?

Well like I mentioned in the last question/answer I watched a lot of documentaries on the subjects. However, most of the summary and objective text (and technical drawings) was taken straight from press releases posted on the NASA website. The nice thing about NASA is that it is a government agency and all the information from the many manned missions is available on-line.  You have to sift through a bunch of stuff to find what you are looking for but it’s all out there.

Would you like to go to Mars?  If you had a 50% chance of dying there would you be a part of the first manned mission to Mars?

Oh boy, probably not. To be perfectly honest I’m not much of a thrill-seeker. I wouldn’t mind taking a trip through space perhaps, but a 50% chance of death . . . . little too risky for me.

art blog - Justin Van Genderen - Empty Kingdom

Name three influences, what you learned from them and how they’ve influenced your work.

Stanley Kubrick. Probably the most influential film maker for me. His clean aesthetic and willingness to attack any genre has inspired me to try designing anything that appeals to me.

Milton Glaser. His work taught me that the idea and execution of something very simple can influence a generation. I love his optimism and thoughtfulness.

Bert Monroy. Bert is more of a technical influence, but his tenacity, eye for detail and technical knowledge helped me not only understand Photoshop better but also, helped me to understand that every detail in a picture is important.

What have you learned from your own work?  How has your art changed since you first began as an artist?

Oh boy. I have learned a bunch since I started posting my work online. Probably the most important thing is what I’ve already talked about and that is the idea behind my designs are so much more important than I used to think. Not only is visual style important but how you say what you want to say. I try to think of my designs more as a conversation. So I then not only have to consider what it is I enjoy talking about but also how I say it.

I think this realization is what led to my more minimalist style of work. Working in this style forces you to strip down everything except for the main point and that is something that I wasn’t used to but really enjoy.

art blog - Justin Van Genderen - Empty Kingdom

How has your technique, approach and style matured?  What do you think was one of the more formative lessons you learned since you first began?

Well my technique and style has matured for a lot of technical reasons. I’ve learned to use Photoshop a lot better and have picked up a lot of tricks along the way. My approach has not changed all that much over the years, if anything I’ve learned to visualize things better. One of the more important lessons that I’ve learned over the years is to not overdo it.

What are you currently working on, whether passion product or commercial?

I am continuing to work on movie-inspired artwork. I’ve been leaning more towards the satirical, but most of the stuff is based on movies from my childhood and other nostalgia. I’m also continuing to do more commercial work for Nissan, Kawasaki, some independent films and a few other clients.

art blog - Justin Van Genderen - Empty Kingdom

How have you seen the field of digital art change since you began?  What do you think has been the cause of the changes you’ve seen?

I think digital art is getting better all the time. More people I think are using the computer as a tool for good design/art and  less as a toy with neat tricks and effects. There will always be the artwork that is wowed by photoshop filters, but as more and more people start to use the computer for art I think the novelty of those tricks wears off and people are forced to find out what looks good regardless of how it was made.

How do you expect digital art to change further in the future?

It’s hard to predict the future, but if I had to throw out a guess I would say digital art is going to blur more with business. I feel as though most digital artists and designers are working in a capitalistic society and that can have an influence on the work they do. Of course I may think that because I see it happening to me all the time.

Who do you think would win in a straight fight, Boba Fett or Han Solo?

Depends on who shoots first. Ziiiiiiiiiiiiiing.

Justin’s site.

art blog - Justin Van Genderen - Empty Kingdom