Justin Jude Carroll (he/him/his)
“The biggest lesson I've learned from living with traumatic brain injury is: Don't stop. Whatever your goal is, whatever you're determined to do, just don't stop pursuing it. Refuse to fold. If we keep that mindset, not as a teeth-gritting defiance, but as a strong sense of optimism and curiosity, nothing can stop us but ourselves.”
With an abundance of wisdom, imagination and determination, Justin Jude Carroll is an artist who continues to surprise, delight and inspire those around him. Born in rural north New Jersey, he spent his teenage years in the suburbs of Philadelphia. After stops in Providence, RI and St. Louis, MO, he has lived in Portland, OR with his family for the past twenty years.
As soon as Justin was able to pick up crayons, he drew constantly. Enthralled by comic books, he enjoyed inventing his own superheroes and villains, drawing hundreds in full-color garb. In high school, his studio art teacher, Mrs. Reynolds, turned him toward more traditional mediums while opening his mind to the works of great artists. He reflects appreciatively, “Her assignments built a foundation in drawing from life, working with pastels, and painting.”
As Justin transitioned into young adulthood and was accepted to the Carnegie Mellon University School of Art, the thought of pursuing a career as a visual artist was daunting. He chose instead to pursue a degree in the humanities, and his artistic focus shifted instead towards singing, acting and writing. Fully immersed, he began composing songs, joined an a capella group, and acted in various student shows.
After graduation, he embarked on a career as a singer-songwriter under the name Justin Jude, recording three albums and performing nationally. Justin became recognized for his musical prowess. He sung acapella on Bourbon Street, opened for Lisa Loeb, and even played a gospel song for MC Hammer in a basement bar! He was honored to receive accolades including Oregon’s Best Singer-Songwriter 2007. From there, more opportunities popped up, including music directing for theaters, playing in a house band, teaching kids theater camps, producing music for synagogue Sunday school, and finally teaching preschool music in the classroom.
It wasn’t until 2015 when this reality and career came to an abrupt stop. While climbing the exterior stairs of a rental house in New Orleans, the staircase collapsed. He fell ten feet, broke his leg, and hit his head hard – sustaining a Traumatic Brain Injury. This led to a long recovery process filled with relearning basic functions. Justin shares, ”After weeks of laying in bed, sensitive to light and noise, vision-impaired, unable to read or watch TV, I did the only thing I could think of: I started drawing.”
Creativity gave Justin tangible, meaningful goals to focus on while going through slow, sometimes grueling recovery from TBI. Additionally, it forced him to revisit the person he was and wrestle with the new person he was becoming. Justin shares, “I've lived most of my life as a tense person. Pre-injury Me liked to try to control outcomes in all areas in order to feel safe. Living with TBI challenges you to a) learn to feel safe again after injury, and b) let go of control, even of your own body, as the injury teaches you how little control you really have.” However, Justin kept his focus on physical and mental recovery, with a determinedness to return to his former love of painting and writing.
Through lots of frustration and false starts, Justin returned to his interest in visual art and began making work again. It wasn’t easy returning after a 20-year hiatus and coping with the effects of TBI, but he continued to persevere. He dove back into abstraction, exploring compositions that are highly kinetic, full of shapes, marks and colors. As the work progressed, compositions became simpler and more refined. “With my landscape work, earlier pieces reflect a simpler comic-book-like style of uncomplicated planes of color. Recent landscapes have become more nuanced and looser. One could say that my abstract work and landscape work are meeting in the middle”, he expresses.
Justin recognizes that three main themes have shaped his process. The first is his education on modern and contemporary art as a youth, with exposure to Pollock, Diebenkorn, Kandinsky and others framing his taste and style. Second, his brain injury has transformed his approach to art, requiring him to be more methodical, patient and compassionate with his efforts. Lastly, his experiences as a preschool music teacher, as well as a dad, have reinforced the wonder of play, and of how magical things happen when one is curious and present.
When starting a new abstract piece, Justin starts by freely mark-making, usually with little to no plan. “Whatever seems interesting to my curiosity in terms of color, texture or shape, I try it,” he says. He likes to put a lot of matter on the canvas from the beginning, which gives him many directions to pursue as the painting progresses. For landscape work, he sketches a loose outline of a photographed image onto the canvas, from a high-contrast black-and-white photo. He then lets intuition guide him in the choice of colors and marks. In this way, his landscapes are a combination of directed effort and intuitive exploration.
He enjoys using many different materials to tantalize the viewer. Often, he utilizes acrylic paint on canvas, then overlays the paint with oil sticks and oil pastels. He may then add in graphite, charcoal, chalk pastel, paint marker, stencils, and eraser marks. These combinations of materials aim to create a surprising effect, and the piece becomes richly layered through the process. Typically each work takes one to two months and he works on multiple pieces at once, often in multiple styles. Justin explains, “Switching between pieces keeps my curiosity keen and my creative sense alert. I also find that the pieces start to inform one another in terms of color, texture and composition.”
Justin hopes that ArtLifting will provide the bridge he needs between creating work and getting it into new homes, where others can adore it. “The ability to make work and potentially have it find an owner, without intermediate steps of scanning, printing, framing, shipping and promoting on social media -- all of which are challenging due to my executive function and vision challenges -- could have a tremendous positive impact on me and my family,” he shares. He is also excited to reflect on the values and needs of different clients and see how this information will transform his future work.
Justin dreams of making work that is more and more true to who he is as an artist and to make that work available to a wide audience. He aspires to sell on an international level, to be carried in galleries, and even to be selected for museum collections, as well as to create large works like murals. He also would love to teach and help other artists over the mental, emotional and spiritual blocks that often plague us. “Most of all, though, I want my work to bring joy, wonder and transcendence to those to view and own it. I want my work to be of beautiful service,” he says.
Justin notes that the health and well-being of his three children and his happy marriage are by far his most meaningful accomplishments. He is passionate about supporting those who are houseless, as well as supporting refugee relocation. He is also invested in the reduction of gun violence, bail reform, and supporting access to art and art education for underserved populations.
When not creating, Justin enjoys reading novels, spending time in nature, playing Dungeons and Dragons, and spending time with his family and dog. Meditation and study of spiritual writings are a core part of his daily life as well, and he volunteers by reading spiritual texts to others. Lastly, Justin is involved with the Give Grief a Voice program, conducted by the nonprofit Buzzy's Bees. This program pairs families who have lost young children with writers to tell the child's story, and then with artists who create a unique painting based on that story.
ArtLifting is extremely proud to be able to share Justin’s work and story with our community.
Prints by Justin Jude Carroll (he/him/his)
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