Justin Canja

Wednesday, January 10 to Sunday, April 21, 2024

Justin Canja is a self-taught artist whose practice is based in expressionism and storytelling. Using experimental mediums, discarded items and found materials, he boldly champions the complexities of his identity and invites others to do the same. Unbound by traditional artistic techniques, Justin uses the freedoms of his art to open dialogue involving his culture, Neurodiversity and the human condition. Justin's artwork will be on display at the Oak Park branch until April 21,2024.


Introduce yourself and describe your work. 

My name is Justin Canja. My artworks focus on sociopolitical topics by the means of painting, collage, murals and installation. I describe current events and juxtapose them to points in our history with the attempt to link the physical and metaphysical through exaggerated gestural expression. I also include the emotional connectedness of collage and found objects. I find it interesting how often small symbols like app buttons and logos appear in our lives. Generally using ironic humor in combination with lighthearted color combinations I prefer to grab the attention of the onlooker by the means of a striking first impression. My current residency is with InterUrban Art House where I focused 2023 on Neurodiversity and the human condition. In this new year I will be extending my concentration into cultural identity. 


What comes first – the medium or the message? 

The message comes first hands down and no question. What is a book without a narrative or intention? Decoration. There is however a time for decoration. I personally live by "always a little bit extra".   


Do you feel there is a difference between your live paintings and your studio work? 

Live painting brings out a stronger poignant narrative that stem from my interactions with inquiring people, and the surrounding music is essential to how that message transpires. House, Drum and Bass and jazz give me that little extra energy to create but all music is beautiful to me. I generally have a pretty chaotic studio space that in a way emulates being in a busy or public setting. When I create in the distraction of my works and surround myself with reference materials, I will reach a point of completion that tells me to bring a particular piece out from my studio to study the way it lives in a space. I bring the energy that surrounds me to the tips of my brushes. It's an "ugly beautiful" kind of situation.   


What was the most important thing you learned from being a self-taught artist? What’s something inherent in your art that couldn’t be taught? 

Being openly self-taught without any fear of what others may think can be difficult. Art is an academic world. Academia is defined as "the environment or community concerned with the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship", so should self-taught artist then be defined as artists?  

I've taught myself my way of collage. Through studying collage's history, influences and applications, I've become accustomed to utilizing paper mediums in the same way I would apply paint. I have the tendency to use vintage publications as a way to "rewrite American history" to how I view the current climate of the nation.   


What is your most important artist tool? Is there something you can’t live without in your studio? 

PH Neutral PVA is my most important tool. There is no replacement for me. I have tried so many other adhesives and nothing compares to its versatility in application. If you collage, I urge you to experiment with every way your paper could be applied, removed, sanded or layered. 


Please list 5-10 books, movies and/or music that currently inspire you. 


Cristopher Rice- A Density of Souls 

Augusten Burroughs- Running With Scissors 


Roni Size- A Return to V 

Alabama Shakes- Sound & Color 



Spirited Away