Joshua Flint received a BFA from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco in 2002. Flint has exhibited extensively in the US at galleries such as Robert Lange Studios in Charleston, Sloane Merrill Gallery in Boston, and La Luz de Jesus Gallery in LA. His work has been featured in American Art Collector, Southwest Art, and Poets and Artists. He is currently an Associate Professor at the Pacific Northwest College of Art and resides in Portland, Oregon.
Hi Josh, did you always know you were going to be a painter, or was there a moment it just clicked?
I wasn’t aware as a young person I wanted to be a painter, however, I realize now that it suits my independent spirit, which I think is an important component to living this sort of creative life. An art school I went with the intention of acquiring drawing and painting skills not knowing what the outcome would be or what media I would most enjoy. I only knew that I’d like to translate my ideas in a 2D visual language.
Your paintings feel like this patchwork of dreams and memories, do you take inspiration from your own dreams?
There is certainly a correlation but nothing specific. Literature, neuroscience, archeology, and of course, my own observations of the world, tend to lend themselves to ideas that float up from the unconscious but not while I’m asleep.
I’d say that there is a more direct correlation to how I construct a painting to the way we make sense of dreams; which I’ll try to relay in a quick summary:
We interpret the disparate imagery experienced in a dream usually as one narrative when that is (often) not the case. Upon waking the nonlinear, fragmented stream of images are threaded together. Where there are gaps we naturally fill in with elements that suit us, creating a more organized, coherent story. In my paintings there are disparate elements or altered spaces that need to be reasoned with in a similar fashion as they can be fractured like dreams. I find all this fascinating and it influences my painting.
“If I could explain it in words then I wouldn’t paint.”
What would you say, is it that you explore within your paintings?
If I could explain it in words then I wouldn’t paint. I think that paintings are to be experienced versus explained, however, my work is based on images curated from many sources such as digitized museum archives, vintage shops, and social media platforms. The paintings fluctuate simultaneously between the familiar and the unknown while including sources from both the past and present. By rearranging the hierarchy of elements the paintings become fictions that allow countless interpretations. Layered into works are references to liminality, nature, neuroscience, psychological states, and the history of painting.
Is there a joy in painting quite surreal scenes, that it is in a way less limiting?
Being a painter is usually tough going regardless of subject matter. If anything it can be a challenge deciding where to go next as often I don’t know the end result. Ultimately, nothing is so precious that I won’t paint over one element with another or toss it out, regardless of effort. No matter how convinced I am of the idea if it doesn’t work when painted on the canvas then it has to go; which speaks to state of mind not subject matter.
In your parallel lives ink drawings, the figures have almost become shadows and their faces obscured, what does this series represent?
I don’t have any clear agenda or interpretation to present to the viewer. I present images that I hope spark something in someone if they choose to engage with the piece. I will say that by obscuring the faces these individuals have a greater universality, which is a quality I like.
You went to China for some workshops, how did being somewhere so very different affect your work?
Under Mao Zedong’s rule artists were banned from any kind of outside influence. They couldn’t observe nor study historical or contemporary art movements. All art was used as propaganda and was structured like the Russian Academy because of the close political ties between the two. When Mao was deposed in the 70s these artists were flooded with the last 400 years of art, all at once. (What an overwhelming time that must have been!) Because of this I think we are seeing some of the most interesting art coming from China. These artists felt free to draw influence from a huge range of art history to suit their own individual goals. Getting to talk to a few artists that experienced this transition left a big impression on me. It really cemented the notion that regardless of trends I’ve got to follow what I value and take little bits from artists, of all types, to add to my own painting practice.
Have you done much traveling otherwise for inspiration?
Yes I have. Since I’ve not had a mentor or an older artist to look to for advice about the business of art, I ‘ve taken it on myself to travel around the U.S. for intense workshops. I received a grant to attend a master class with Vincent Desiderio at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. More recently, I won a scholarship to work with Bo Bartlett at his studio in Columbus, GA. In each case I went to glean what I could about their conceptual approach to painting and how they function as successful artists.
You share a lot of your process stages and studies with the viewers, what can audience participation bring to your practice?
By sharing the process, I invite people’s comments, general feedback, and criticism, and this gives me a space to see the work from their perspective. I’m out of my head and in someone else’s for a moment.
What I like about social media is that it demystifies the act of creation. It allows me to share more than just the finished work, which often can have an impenetrable quality. I’ve always looked at the sketches of artists I admire to see how they think. This is as illuminating and potentially as powerful as the finished artwork. It’s like having a map to a maze.