If George Orwell met up with Beetlejuice for a peyote vision quest in a Salvador Dalí wasteland, Justin Lovato would be commissioned to document the occasion. The 23-year-old Sacramento native has a flair for creating imagery that’s a bit Orwellian, quite grotesque and very intriguing. In Lovato’s world, it seems almost natural that tree trunks snake out of skulls and blood projectiles shoot from the eyes of characters resembling Jabba the Hutt. His paintings have traveled to exhibitions in Miami; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco and Portland, Ore. As he finished some last-minute pieces for his show at Upper Playground (2524 J Street), Lovato took a break to chat about torture, paranoia and a hysterical society.
I was looking at your MySpace page and came across a photo of you being arrested at 8 years old. I’m guessing that has something to do with graffiti?
(Laughs.) No, actually, I just put that on there to be funny. It’s not really me. It’s a picture I found. I just wanted to see what people would say about it. You can perpetuate that lie, though, if you want.
Tell me about your upcoming show.
Yeah, Infinite Bewilderment. I guess the theme is just sort of like a general confusion and hysteria you see throughout the world and just your own everyday life. It varies—from everyday distractions and your expectations from other people. Some might interpret it as my view of the world and war and people and their racism and class issues and real general things like that. I’m really into religious symbolism and mythological symbolism and things that have been around for years and years and still can translate into a general interpretation of the way things are now. That’s why it’s infinite bewilderment: People forever being confused and distracted ’til the end of time.
Your images include a lot of people with objects protruding off them. Is there any significance behind that?
I guess the trees coming out of people might mean people’s suppressed anxiety about their natural self. It seems like we’ve steered so far away from the natural state of existence, sometimes you can catch it bursting out of people in their most primal states, mind or actions.
You’ve mentioned the paranoia aspect in your imagery. Do you see yourself as being paranoid about society?
Maybe a little bit paranoid, in the sense that you’re not really ever able to get the full picture about what has happened in any given major event, it seems like. If you only read the newspaper or only watch television—especially if you only watch television—you’re never really going to get a full picture of the basic truth … you have to do a lot of your own reading and things like that. For instance, the whole torture thing … they’ve done such horrendous things to people in those prisons that they probably weren’t even able to talk about them on TV because they’re so dehumanizing. And I think people don’t really see the whole picture unless they want to do a little bit of work. So that’s all I mean about being paranoid, is just not being able to trust what you see on the surface.
Are you hoping your artwork enlightens people about what’s going on?
Maybe a little. It’s by no means activist art or anything like that. But I think it’s definitely like I’m diving into my own personal imagery. Some people take it just the way it looks. Usually I have to explain something or explain some kind of deeper meaning to people because the imagery can be a little bit vague sometimes. I wouldn’t say it’s blatantly out in the open in my art, but if you want to interpret it that way, you can. I mean, that’s what’s great about not using words and just using imagery is that it can attach itself onto many different types of people.
Kind of like a dream?
Yeah, it definitely does have a dream feeling, and I’ve definitely gotten ideas for paintings from dreams. I’ve had dreams about paintings that I haven’t painted yet, and then I’ll try to sketch them down. I think one time I had a dream about me walking into some museum and looking at a bunch of art and feeling really shitty because it all looked like my art. And I thought somebody had already done what art I was trying to do before. And then I woke up feeling really disappointed because your emotion kind of carries over to your waking life. Then I realized, “Oh, I should just sketch those down because those are in my head and those are my pieces of art, so they’re mine for the taking.”