Read our interview with Justin Venn, a mural artist using KEIM Design Lasur to paint Byzantine icons. Justin began his own atelier, Studiosanctus and has been painting in his hometown of Johannesburg South Africa for some years.
Photo credit: Justin Venn
How did you come to your current profession?
I became an iconographer (painter of Byzantine icons) through my discovery of the Orthodox Church. When I finally discovered the icon and it’s natural home and purpose, it’s meaning, I knew I had finally found what I had been looking for as an artist. People sometimes think being part of a tradition is just a matter of copying things that have been done before. But that’s not true; copying is just a matter of learning, but once you have assimilated the teachings the tradition becomes alive and you have freedom and creativity to work within a meaningful and transformative framework.
What inspires you?
I guess I should say I’m inspired by the Holy Spirit ultimately! “Inspire” means to breathe in, and “spirit” also means breath or air in various languages, so I believe I really do feel enlivened by divine inspiration, as it were. But in terms of more concrete realities I am inspired above all by the divine beauty of all the masters that have gone before me. Both within and without the Church. I can love and respect any kind of genuine art which requires true craftsmanship. It’s all very inspiring.
What is the process of preparing a project? How long does a project take on average?
Preparing a project looks very different depending on what the project is. When someone asks for a portable icon on a board that’s quite different from an entire mural scheme. But, to give a basic idea, I first have to understand what the goal of the project is, and what the budget is. Depending on that you can start understanding what’s possible and what’s not. From there it’s about doing various mock up sketches and experiments. And then, once everything is well planned and organized and agreed upon, I take my brushes and KEIM paints and climb a scaffold and get to work. Depending on what the job is it might take as long as a day or two, or up to a few years! It’s impossible to say exactly.
What are the biggest challenges? How do you overcome them?
The biggest challenges? Wow, so many… as any artist knows, art is made to be seen, and in my line of work it’s made to be seen for a very specific purpose - worship and communion - and so I really have to make sure my work meets that requirement visually. I also am adamant about using the best materials available because I believe all true craft is made to last. That’s why I use KEIM. But sometimes, most times, budgets don’t allow for much so I have to get pretty creative and honest with what I can do for whatever the budget may allow. These are all challenges and considerations to try overcome from the start. Of course there are sometimes small issues that come along while at doing the job - falling ill, or being delayed for whatever reason. But the most challenging thing to deal with is the clients themselves! Often people have a vague idea in their head of what they want but they are unable to communicate it clearly. It’s my job then to try get as accurate an idea as possible from them by exploring their thoughts and impressions. It’s not always easy, but it’s important when you want your clients to be satisfied.
“Being made from totally natural materials, the silicate paints are very much in keeping with the high standard and nobility of Byzantine art. Their durability and similar appearance to traditional fresco make them an ideal paint for murals. Like fresco, the silicate paints bind with the walls themselves, giving a beautiful, breathable, natural feel. The colour range is also great, making pretty much any job possible.”
What has been your best project so far?
The Romanian Orthodox Church in South Africa. That was a huge job (an entire church), and I probably won’t have the opportunity to do something that grand again. If I could however go back and do it again I would do things differently, but all in all it’s still the biggest and best job I’ve done.
What do you like most about your work?
I love the fact that I’m part of a centuries old tradition passed on from one generation to the next, each assuming it as their own and developing it further. Of course I am a devout Orthodox Christian and priest so it all ties in together in my life as an act of worship and sacrifice to God. What could be better than that!?
“When working on murals, either inside churches, or even on exterior surfaces – I only use KEIM paints.”
What excites you about our colours?
I love KEIM colours not just because they have a fair selection, but because most of them can look very natural and dignified on the wall.
Which KEIM product do you prefer to work with?
I use the Design Lasur system, which works well for me because mostly the colours last long and dry to look very much like actual fresco.