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Justin Broadbent

Medium: Digital design, video, photography, large scale murals

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Instagram: @keithdungeon


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Justin Broadbent is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work ranges from illustration, photography, and large-scale murals to video direction and fashion design. In addition to his design and illustration work and partnerships with everyone from Holt Renfrew to Lululemon and Crown Royal, Justin has worked with the Art Gallery of Toronto, Absolut Vodka, Microsoft, and many others as a curator and art director.


How would you describe your artistic style?

Hey! It’s hard to sum up my artistic style precisely because I work in a lot of different mediums - from digital design to video to large scale murals. But I think the takeaways from my work are vibrance, humour, and spontaneity. Stylistically, my work embraces things like paint drips, and “mistakes” - ie. canvases are left unframed, design elements are purposefully off-centre or lack proportion. I have a busy imagination, and my work often replicates that through overlapping, layers, collage, and organized chaos. When I’m doing a design piece, I use a lot of simple shapes, objects and cartoon-like faces. I do artwork for a brewery called Slake where I take complex forms like a plant or cat and distill them into much simpler, 2D forms that go on a beer can. I was obsessed with graffiti when I was in high school, and I still often use my handwriting (in my art) in bold oversized letters that take up way more space than they deserve. To redeem their scale, I’ll use positive, simple words like “YES” or “LOVER” or “FULL” - always in ALL CAPS because it feels like I’m yelling good ideas. Ironically, I have terrible handwriting.


Can you talk about your creative process? And if or how it varies depending on the medium you're working in?

I hate computers. Nah... But I never start my process with computers (even when I’m doing a graphic design project). I find working by hand makes me feel extremely present and allows me to let go of any preconceptions I have going in. The greatest advice for process that I was told is “PAY ATTENTION.” Right now, I’m sitting in my living room, and the angled shadow pattern on my coffee table actually just gave me an idea for a project I’m working on. I didn’t come up with it, but I found it. I also always have a sketchbook at an arm's reach to jot down or sketch ideas for any project regardless of the medium. When it comes to painting, I personally like to feel prepared, calm and have a beer. When I’m designing, I like to feel the project’s chaos and then rein it in. In almost all mediums, I don’t want to know the finish line, I just set up a good space for myself to pay attention.


What role does space and environment, whether interior or exterior, play on your murals and large scale paintings?

I hardly ever paint small. I’m just not good at it. Generally I start trying to pull from a medium what I think it needs to communicate. A mural might be in an office to help people feel connected or calm, or it might be something to catch someone’s eye and draw them into a space. With large scale work, the small details become less important to me. Whereas with something like an album cover, the small details really matter to me. Pop art played a big role in my love for large design objects in relation to large space - It feels like you’re taking a small drawing and blowing it up way beyond its true scale. Sometimes the environment will influence some of my aesthetic decisions too. If I’m painting in a modern, beautiful, minimalist space, I like to use neon paint or let drips happen or use my ugly handwriting - let the art contrast the environment. Other times, I won’t have any understanding of what the space will look like before the work is installed (pre-build or commission), so I get pure, delicious freedom.

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You've worked with brands including Lululemon, The Bay and Crown Royal as well as having designed album covers and merchandise for numerous musicians. How does collaboration play a part in such projects?

With large brands, sometimes it’s less of a collaboration and more of an alignment. The Bay, for example, asked me to do some of my drawings (whatever I wanted) to be printed on a line of their clothing. Whereas with Lululemon I was specifically commissioned to design the public merchandise for Canada at the Olympics. One of the best and hardest collaborations is representing something that doesn’t exist in a visual world (ie. how do you visually convey a song, or a podcast or an album?). There is often a process of getting to know one another before starting into a collaboration. Working with musicians can be challenging because we’re both collaborating as artists. So I find it really important to care for, and love the project/ people I am working with.


Is there a particular project that was exceptionally noteworthy or an interesting experience for you?

My work with Shad (rap artist) has been one of the longest and most fulfilling experiences in my career. First off, we are now super close friends. Shad and I have a strange kind of natural symbiosis in our ideas. But from the start we shared a very high level of admiration and respect for one another’s art. While giving my first listen to his latest record, I was playing around with some hand cut paper pieces, laying them out in patterns that sort of formed a disjointed body. Basically in one shot, I realized I had created the album cover. I sent him a picture of it, then called him, and he was like “Yep! Done!”


In what ways does your work with music video direction and photography play into the other aspects of your practice, such as illustration and design?

That’s an interesting question. I’ve always been drawn to cameras. I like that you look through a lens in a fixed-framed eyepiece. The world around you seemingly gets eliminated and all you do is focus on the design or action within the frame. In many ways video direction really amalgamates all of my artistic interests, from conceptualization, to art-directing, to design, to photography, to editing, to colour, and even social connection. I’m inspired by filmmakers like Terrence Malick or Harmony Korine that fuck up your understanding of storytelling and play with visual expectations. In terms of photography, I break a lot of rules with my photos because of my design brain. I often draw on top of them, or alter the images in post.


What inspires your work and ideas?

I like to look at the world in an absurdist kind of way, where everyday objects can hold extreme weight while being completely “useless” - a cat in a window, a custom license plate, a missing letter on a sign, etc. Which is why I love humour. I find it allows people the freedom to open up to new ideas. It’s surprising and layered and clever. One of my greatest heroes/ inspirations is David Shrigley -- he can capture a severely complex idea in a really funny, simple drawing. If I’m really stuck for an idea, I go for a walk to a thrift store and root through the weird things people give away -- it’s like Canada’s Wonderland for my brain. I also get weirdly inspired by stupid thoughts, like how many people I’ve seen in my life.


Pay it forward -- tell us about something or someone our readers should know about.

Arundhati Roy. Jorden & David Doody. Dralms. Shad. Extra Burger. David Shrigley. Space By Fern. Slake Brewing. Nathan For You. David Lynch’s book Catching the Big Fish. And a restaurant in Toronto called Foxley that I named my son after.

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