The artist comes in many forms, and Justin Sawyer is a striking example of this unique fact of life. Whether they prefer acrylic on canvas or pigment on skin is irrelevant as long as there is some deeper thought going into the work being created, as well as some inspiration the artist intends for the viewer to hopefully achieve from the piece. A true artist at heart, Justin Sawyer excels in various media, always searching for the next inspiration leading to the complete, final thought.
Growing up in the area, Sawyer graduated from Pineville High School in 2002, and headed to University of Louisiana at Lafayette to enter into their arts program. After finishing his core classes and quickly realizing college wasn’t the direction which his life was taking him, Sawyer began searching for other opportunities which would keep him creating the art in which he’d loved his entire life, while also keeping on the lights that he has grown accustomed to as well. One connection lead to another, and the chance to become an apprentice at Speakeasy Tattoo and Piercing presented itself in 2005 with Sawyer jumping on the chance to expand his skillset into tattooing.
When asked which medium he prefers to express himself through most, Sawyer replies, “I need it all to balance itself out. Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of watercolor and acrylics, but I try a lot of different things.” His sketching is one of the many things that draw me to Justin’s work. Not any sketches on the finished level, but the laying out of his pieces before adding the depth and the feel. There is something about the simplicity of a sketch that a lot of artists seem to forget once they become more established in their craft. The line, unaltered by any pigment or heavy technique, really shows the essence, the true nature of the artist and the skillset he holds deep within. Justin’s sketches have always amazed me.
Some of the traditional tattoo influences are very apparent in Justin’s tattooing style, but the influences in his painting are somewhat more subtle. “Greg Simkins’ definitely influences me a lot. His acrylics and his oils and all that stuff that he does. Even his graffiti and his pencil sketches and his pen—it’s all different, but creative. It kind of makes your mind open up when you’re looking at it because there’s so much stuff going on.”
Gregg Simkins’ influence can be found in much of Sawyer’s body of work. As of late, his acrylic pieces are moving from a neo-traditional tattoo style into more of a surreal world only found in the heads of artist like Simkins and Dali. Justin’s works seem to be moving from recollections of the past with his traditional tattooing influenced pieces, into a vision of the future yet to come with these surreal elements intertwining with the concrete. A world that is somewhat recognizable at first glance, but becomes less and less familiar the more the viewer’s eyes dance around the canvas in search of something familiar to steady their thoughts in a world unknown.
Having received eight awards from various tattoo conventions, as well as a lengthy spread in Tattoo Magazine, Sawyer is on his way to being well established in the world of fine tattooing. When asked about any future direction in which he would like to take his art and his life, Sawyer deliberated with a seriousness more fitting a CEO considering his 20 year plan versus a tattooed twenty-something artist whom many would assume had no plans for making it in life, and quickly move on with theirs. After serious deliberation and some apparent mental calculations, Sawyer replies, “At some point, it would be nice to dive head first into painting and have tattooing as a side thing if I could get to the point where I’m comfortable. But other than that, I’ve always wanted to do something in art. So, no matter what, it’s gonna be in art.” This is a plan which sums up Justin in so many ways. He doesn’t spend his time talking so much about what he is going to do that it never actually gets accomplished. He saves his creativity for the paint to be spread on the canvas rather than the words coming out of his mouth, and I admire that whole heartedly.
Justin Sawyer is a man I have grown to respect in the few years I have known him through his art, and cemented through his personality. He’s an artist of few words, a truly rare breed, but when deep in conversation with a man whose love for his craft stands above his small stature and sparing voice, one begins to gain a glimpse of a creative soul who clearly has very much to say about all the aspects of this thing called life. Whatever method Justin chooses to tell his story—skin or canvas—it will surely be something admired for years to come by all those who are lucky enough to view his thoughts come to life.