Justin W. Archer (b.1989) is a sculptor whose work considers the fragility and wonder found in the contemporary human experience. He received his M.F.A. in 2016 from the University of North Texas. Archer’s work has been exhibited at Love Field Airport in Dallas, Cross-Pollination Art Lab in Atlanta, the Louisiana Biennial, R02 Gallery in Dallas, Miami University in Ohio, and many other galleries nationally. He has artwork in the collections of the Thompson Buckhead, Texas Tech University, the Methodist Health System Foundation, Music Bed, along with many others. He lives with his wife, Laura, in Atlanta, Georgia.
There are millennia of organic life hidden in stone, exposed by enduring winds. Breathtaking sites of water-carved landscapes. Masterworks of ancient cultures that perpetually draw our attention, despite nature’s persistent effects on them. If wonder is produced from nature’s imposition, can it be so in our own lives?
Through lifesize figures and everyday objects, I explore concepts of weather to discuss the contemporary human experience. Mimicking a type of pixelation, these sculptures are composed of hundreds of blocks of wood. Formed from these blocks emerge images that reflect traditional wood carving techniques with heavy, gestural marks. Allowing varying degrees of digital weathering exposes the fragility within these sculptures while portraying a new, unrecognized beauty.
The figures I create often contain additional elements that house aspects of personal narratives being expressed. Additionally, contemporary artifacts, such as emerging hoodies and distressed umbrellas, ask viewers where they seek shelter. There are many storms around us, from the recent pandemic to the further display of racial and social inequality. My work considers how harsh weather can connect us, and looks for wonder that might be found.
What initially compelled you to create your work?
Sculpting has been a way for me to understand the world. When I first began creating sculptures, visualizing the complexities found in quantum mechanics and string theory drew me in. While those works were dynamic, for me they failed to express what it truly meant to be human - to experience beauty, loss, and hope. This caused me to begin asking different questions in my studio practice, leading me to begin sculpting figures in wood. Working from a material that had its own life, and forming into something new was incredibly compelling. Over time, my exploration of digital fabrication processes was brought into these figures, assisting me as I contemplated the contemporary human experience.
What main topic does your artwork address and why?
Over the last few years, I have been sitting with the question “Does weathering produce beauty?” There are numerous examples of this occurring in our world. From wondrous canyons slowly shaped by glacial waters to works of art history, fragmented by the winds and rain, that continue to inspire us. My sculptural practice explores how these ideas are reflected in our daily lives. For many years I struggled with anxiety. During this time, I also experienced a great deal of compassion and generosity from the people around me. This showed me the goodness in my life that I so easily, and so often, overlooked. While I’m not suggesting this made my anxiety any less real, it seems to me a grace that in one of the darkest seasons of my life, I also saw immense beauty. So many of us experience anxiety, depression, and much more. These sculptures are a way for me to consider how in the fractured moments of life, beauty might still be found.
In your artistic journey, what has been the most challenging point thus far?
When I began sculpting the figure I had very little knowledge of wood carving, or of the human form. Sculpting wood forced me to slow down and appreciate the process of working with my materials and subject matter. Nothing happens quickly in my studio. It took many years to bring my understanding of both material and subject to a place where the visions I had for my work, and the work itself, became more closely aligned.
Is there an aspect of your life that especially impacts your practice?
For me, creating is an essential aspect of what it means to be human. To take materials, pigments, and movement, and create something that has never before been experienced. I feel this process is inherent in who we are as human beings because we were created by an imaginative God. So, my practice of artmaking is a reflection of this act of producing new forms of wonder into the world.
What do you do when you find yourself at a creative block?
I usually find refuge in research or reading when unsure where to go next. Spending a day at the museum sitting with artwork, or diving into a movement in art history that has been particularly captivating for me at that moment. Works of fiction are also incredibly important for inspiring my creative process. And, sometimes, it’s just helpful to take time to go on a walk or enjoy a good meal with friends.