Meet the Artist: Justin Winkel

Justin Winkel is a self-taught artist and gallery owner from Baltimore, Maryland. As an Abstract Artist, Justin works in a variety of mediums with the use of bold colors & texture. In 2005, Justin experienced a traumatic loss that truly reshaped his life and caused him to struggle with personal direction and purpose.

After 8 years of uncertainty and choice decisions, in February 2013, at the age of 23, Justin turned to art as a new hobby and stress reliever. The moment Justin put a paintbrush to the canvas, was the first time he felt true peace within his life. He recalls the moment as, 'A euphoric feeling with the room turning white, empty, and spacious; with only me and my art supplies being present.'

His new found outlet helped him overcome his battle with depression and helped him find a new passion and regain his sense of purpose. Justin was just three months away from graduating from The University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), with a degree in Business Technology Administration when he started painting.

With graduation approaching Justin was uncertain of the career path that he wanted to embark on. Initially painting was just a therapeutic activity and Justin had no intentions of having a career in arts. But he developed this love and burning desire for art. Witnessing how painting had truly impacted his life in such a positive way, Justin decided to take art more seriously and attempted to make it his career.

Two years into his painting career, in May 2015 Justin opened his own Art Gallery, Winkel Gallery, located in the historic neighborhood of Fells Point, Maryland, which houses his permanent collection.

To date Justin has sold works that are represented in many private collections across the United States as well as London and Australia. Art changed Justin’s life for the better and now his plan is to share his story in hopes to help someone else who is in a similar situation. 

We sat down with Justin to ask him a few questions;

The Art Districts: At what age did you start painting, and what got you started?

Justin Winkel: I started painting at the age of 23. I started painting as a form of stress relief. At that time I was extremely stressed out, I was working and going to school full time. I was approaching graduation with no clue what I wanted to do. So painting started as just a therapeutic activity to help me relax at night.

TAD: Was becoming an artist always a dream of yours, and what were some of your other dreams growing up?

JW: No being an artist was never something I ever thought of as a child. When I was growing up I was very involved with sports and I dreamt about becoming a professional athlete.

TAD: Obviously being an artist is one of the coolest professions in the world, but if being an artist wasn't your first choice, what was?

JW: I love everything about being an artist. Art is my new found love of course, but my first love was basketball. So if I was not an artist I would very much enjoy playing in the NBA.

TAD: As an artist who are your biggest inspirations and why?

JW: My biggest inspiration is probably my father. He was a really good man who unfortunately passed away way too young. But I live every day trying to be even half the man he was. He's been gone for 10 years now and I have yet to hear someone have anything negative to say about him. He was truly loved by everyone. That is who I aspire to be like.

TAD: Wow, I'm really sorry to hear that. How do you think your father feels about you living out your dreams and having success being an artist?

JW: Honestly, I'm positive that he is super proud. My father was a very talented artist, even though he never practiced full-time, he was still extremely gifted. Some of my fondest memories are of him being creative and using his artistic talents.

TAD: That is incredibly moving. Let's switch gears. Who are your three favorite artists?

JMW: Rothko, Willem de Kooning, and probably Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. I love Rothko because he was the first artist whose work really captivated me. The look of simplicity and the scale of his works, really just sucked me in. I love de Kooning for his use of texture and brush strokes. His work are very whimsical. And finally I love Kirchner's use of color and figures.

TAD: Is abstract your favorite style of art?

JMW: I definitely favor more abstract art but recently I’ve really been really inspired by the impressionist and expressionist especially after seeing them in person.

TAD: What does art mean to you? How does it make you feel?

JW: Art to me means hope and joy, because those are the two emotions that art added back to my life.

TAD: How would you best describe your own personal style of art?

JW: I am an experimenter. I'm always willing to try new mediums and new techniques. I have never limited myself to just one medium. But the two things that remain consistent throughout my art career and choice of medium is my use of color & texture. There is also a sense of versatility to my work. I like to create my pieces so they can hang in any direction.

TAD: Artist get asked so many questions regarding their process, what is the one question that really grinds your gears?

JW: I think what bothers me the most is when people look at my art or any abstract art for that matter and either say ‘That’s not Art,’ or ‘I can do that.’ That bothers me more than anything because if it’s so easy and you think you can do it then why aren’t you. To me being an artist is one of the most misunderstood professions, and if it were so easy then everyone would be able to make a living doing it.

TAD: Has anyone ever looked at your art and said that they could do that?

JW: YES! and I think it is hilarious.. Funny story; I had a gentleman come into my gallery one day and stated, "I can do that, I cannot believe people buy this." And instead of me getting offended, I called his bluff. I told him to go home and create whatever he wants. Put a price on his work and bring it back to my gallery and I will try and sell it.

TAD: Did the gentleman ever return?

JW: Of course not.

TAD: I cannot believe people have the nerve to say something like that out loud. Do those type of comments offend you?

JW: Honestly, when I first opened my gallery, a comment like that would have bothered me. But as a grew as an artist I learned that no matter what there will always be someone who has something negative to say and it usually stems from their own insecurities and jealousy. You just have to learn to ignore those type of comments and not take it personal.

TAD: What is your favorite thing about being an artist?

JW: My favorite thing about being an artist is having the ability to follow my passion. I love the freedom and the ability to just create every day. It's truly a blessing that I never take for granted.

TAD: Do you ever experience artist blocks, and what do you do to overcome them?

JW: Yes I do experience artist blocks. It usually happens once every few months. I have learned that whenever I am in a creative funk I try a new medium or technique. This allows me to remove the expectations and paint freely. Switching back and forth between mediums helps clear my mind and start fresh without overthinking.

TAD: Finally, do you have a favorite piece of your own work, and what makes it special? (Please add photo of it)

JW: Honestly it is really tough to just pick one. I don't know if I have just one favorite, but I do have paintings that symbolize an important moment in my career. For example, the first painting I sold out of the gallery or when I sold my 100th painting. Those were big moments within my career.

'Passion' Acrylic on Canvas, 2013. (First Painting Sold in Gallery)

You may view Justin's entire collection on his website or follow along his journey through Instagram @JustinWinkel.


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