Freeman’s is proud to host an exhibition of artwork by esteemed New Jersey outsider artist and sculptor Bob Justin entitled The Man Behind the Mask - from Tuesday, January 9 – Friday, February 9 at the Main Line location in Wayne, PA. Known for his primitive sculptures and masks made from found objects, Bob Justin gained notoriety in the outsider art world beginning in the 1990s.
Before embarking on his artistic journey, Justin held – by his own account – somewhere between 200 and 300 different jobs, ranging from strawberry picker to real estate broker to truck driver. But in 1991 when a heart attack forced him to slow down and settle down, he started making art out of found objects. It was literally his very first piece, “Texas Longhorn” made of a chair bottom and a broken pickaxe intended only as an ornament for his truck; that caught the attention of an art collector. They bought it on the spot for $75.
Made from what he liked to call the “detritus of society” his masks and sculptures were comprised of objects that spoke to him from flea markets, dumps, junkyards, and the side of the road. Justin claimed to have seen faces in inanimate objects for most of his life, and so he chose his objects for what he called the secondary image they contained, the embodiment of his visions. He called his masks “critters” and found great joy in making them, each one totally unique and with names often evoking the playful quality of his work.
His work fairly quickly garnered the attention and appreciation of art buffs and collectors, and like many other self-taught outsider artists, he was often pleasantly amused when members of the fine art world talked about his work.
In an interview with the Star Ledger in 1994 he said, chuckling, “In galleries, people start using words I don’t even understand to describe my pieces . . . I ain’t making no statement, I’m making a critter.” His morning routine often involved getting up at 4:30am to scour flea markets looking for elements of faces. “Somebody else might look at an old hammer and say, that’s a hammer. I’ll say, ‘that’s a nose . . . They all have such personality. Sometimes when I sell one I miss it and I want it back.”
Outsider Art has had an enduring appeal for collectors in the art world for the last 4 decades. As a tradition, it continues to challenge and redefine the limits of what we call art. While it’s certainly not a new phenomenon, the most recent precursor to Outsider Art is the French tradition of “art brut” or “raw art.” In his 1947 manifesto, French artist and curator Jean Dubuffet defined art brut as referring to “works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture, where mimicry plays little or no part (contrary to the activities of intellectuals.) These artists derive everything from their own depths, and not from the conventions of classical or fashionable art.” In 1972, Art critic Roger Cardinal coined the term “Outsider Art” saying "I believe that a paramount factor in the critical definition of the creative Outsider is that he or she should be possessed of an expressive impulse and should then externalize that impulse in an unmonitored way which defies conventional art-historical contextualization.”
Bob Justin’s work is in the collections of, among many others, Kristina Barbara Johnson (widow of sculptor Seward Johnson), and sculptors Isaac Witkin and Karl Stirner. Bob Justin was given a one-man show in the prestigious Eisenhower Hall Theater of the United States Military Academy of West Point New York and a one-man show in the New Jersey State Museum in Trenton, as well as showings in the important Outsider Art Fair, sponsored by the American Museum of Folk Art, New York, New York and the influential Laumeir Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Missouri. Currently, public collections of his work exist in the permanent collection of the New Jersey State Museum, Trenton, New Jersey.
This exhibition is presents a rare opportunity for collectors to acquire work by Bob Justin, available directly form his Estate. Man Behind the Mask will be on view from Tuesday, January 9 – Friday, February 9, with an opening reception on Wednesday, January 17 from 6-8pm. Freeman’s Main Line office is located at 503 W. Lancaster Ave, Wayne, Pa, 19087.