Calling Justin Giunta a “multi hyphenate” doesn’t do him justice. He’s an artist who makes richly layered oil paintings, intricately detailed pencil drawings and layered 3D floral collages. He’s an interior designer who also makes chic brass wall sconces and decadent chandeliers. He’s a CFDA award-winning jeweler who creates deeply personal, playful pieces from vintage charms and stones. He’s collaborated and worked with everyone from Tory Burch to India Hicks to Calvin Klein to Alexander Wang (Oh, and he also designed the Land of Belle logo!) To get a sense of what’s behind all that creative output, we spoke to Justin about his process, his biggest inspirations, and the reason he feels that variety is an essential part of what he does.
You juggle so many different projects—jewelry, painting, interiors, lighting design—how do you make it all work without getting overwhelmed?
I have always found that variety fuels my creative output. It has always been the nature of my work to cross disciplines, and to do this, I have always aimed to learn as much as possible about each area of design so that I can approach mixing material or style with an informed and skilled insight. Although I wear many hats professionally, I only have one head, and the crossover of ideas is fundamental to my process.
Did each project develop organically, or did you know before you started that you wanted to have multiple things going on at the same time?
When I was an undergrad [Giunta studied at Pratt Institute and the Gerrit Reitveld Academie in Amsterdam, and got his BFA from Carnegie Mellon] I was awarded an opportunity to do a studio program in the woods of Connecticut, for two months we ate, drank, and breathed our studio art practice. It drove me crazy! I took a job at the coffee shop, just so I could have some mental space to reflect on what I was working on in my studio. I have since adapted that to keep a rotation of projects that engage me creatively. I always return to painting, drawing, and jewelry as a constant in my practice, but working with interiors offers a three dimensional canvas on which all elements of scale, texture, decor, color, and light, all play into and well composed room.
When I was a student, I had early intern experiences working for a slew of creative professionals—studio artists, and gallery owners, set designers, interior designers, theater directors, and even a PR firm in New York. Ultimately, I have forged my own professional path, starting and operating my own company at 23 years old, and have operated under the umbrella of that company ever since.
What was the most challenging part of running your own business?
Trying to do it all, and when knowing you can’t do it all on your own, figuring out how you are going to pay the people you need to help you.
What does a typical work day look like?
In the morning, I review my email, and work on digital design files on the computer. Then, if you can believe it, I step away from my computer for most of the day and return to correspondence in the evening. Of course, computer time can take up days at time when I am working on a digital design heavy project. Otherwise, I divide my time between drawing and developing jewelry. I am often having meetings with clients, so it affords me the opportunity to be mobile. Moving around all over the city is the sort of sensory overload that I love. Like looking for a key in a junk drawer, the city is piled with visual stimulation, I always find something new, interesting and exciting when I navigate NYC. This is very much an understated part of my process: to walk, to look, to think.
What’s the most rewarding part of your day?
It is a tie between starting a new project, and finishing another.
Where do you get inspiration from and how do you keep track of those moments?
Lots of pictures, lots of drawings, I do not limit my imagination or recording of ideas to the topics I am totally immersed in at any given time. Instead, I draw insistently, and eventually themes emerge that may seem new today, but have hints recorded through my old notebooks. For me it offers continuity to my work and process, I also take and organize photo notes into categories (architecture, design details, graphic design, and color swatches) and I often return to them for inspiration for different projects.
Do you have a favorite architect or designer?
I love the casual, yet elevated elegance of Axel Vervoordt. Rich colors, inviting furniture, and eclectic collection of objects, are, in my opinion, the elements of style that I embrace in my own design.
Are there any books and movies that have inspired your work?
Against the Grain (or Against Nature, depending on the translation) by J.K. Huysmans. It is the Decadent Manifesto and insists that man can triumph over nature with design and engineering. I also refer to The Society of the Spectacle by French theorist Guy Debord, in which our contemporary society has been predicted to include an inundation of visual messaging, and how to use existing imagery to re-contextualize meaning and message away from its original purpose.
Who are the artists and designers who have inspired you the most?
Martin Margiela and Dries Van Noten are two of my favorite clothing designers because they exist on opposite ends of the avant garde spectrum to me. Dries Van Noten makes ultra-modern garments with new fabrics. They have a feeling of deep color saturation and elaborate, decadent details that reference traditions like brocade and embroidery. Margiela appeals to my subversive nature, which calls into question the definition of design itself. As an artist, I pull different aspects of inspiration from different artists, but I love the honesty and drive to create that prompted the writer and painter Henry Darger to pursue a life of making art for his eyes only. (The world was lucky that his work has been discovered, preserved, and promoted after his death.)
Is there an architectural movement or period that you feel a real connection with?
It is hard to refute a love for Deco architecture, but I am always drawn to Baroque and Rococo architecture because they are feast for the eyes and inspirational details.
How do you maintain a work-life balance?
I don’t, generally. They blend into one another quite fluidly and beautifully.
Do you have a work uniform?
Ha—I envy businessmen for always looking polished in a suit, I could never do that. It is so unnatural for me. I am a casual dresser, but not a uniform black t-shirt designer. I am very particular about I chose to wear, that is not too normcore but not flamboyant either. I usually wear clothes I can expect to get messed up. I have “enhanced” (or ruined) a lot of designer clothing.
What does your work space look like?
My workspace can best be described as “organized chaos.” I have so many boxes, bins, and drawers filled with jewelry supplies, paint, glue, tape, paper—really a lot of stuff! Scissors and paper towels are pretty much the two staples I always have on hand,
What are a few qualities that make you good at what you do?
Being open minded and creatively agile gets me projects and helps me solve new problems. Being dedicated, humble, and hardworking helps keep clients. Being self-confident keeps me moving forward through the occasional disappointments.
What advice would you give people who want to start out in a creative industry?
You are your toughest critic. If you validate your work, others surely will too!
Alarm goes off at: No alarm, natural riser at 6:30 A.M.
Work starts at: 9 A.M.
Work ends at: 8-ish.
Typical bedtime: 12:00-1:00 A.M.
Coffee/Tea Order: COFFEE.
Highlight of your day: Morning light streaming in.
The skill that doesn’t come naturally to you that you wish did: MUSIC, and learning foreign languages.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you want to be? An Archeologist.
Working from home, love or hate? Both. It can be great and distracting all at once.
Colors you’re most drawn to: Deep saturated blues, greens, and yellows, and reds—I’m an artist, I love them all!