Justin Wagher examines our predatory instinct in Hunger Strike

July 24, 2017 by JULIE GARISTO | VISUAL ARTS
Justin Wagher's "Untitled 02", acrylic on paper, $225.
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The COVE  seems to be making immersive art a signature event in Pinellas Park, entreating the public to step momentarily into alternate worlds.

Just opened this Saturday during the Pinellas Art Village’s Art Walk, Justin Wagher’s Hunger Strike invites the viewer into a raw but beautiful portrait of biological instinct. It’s a stark contrast from the comic book mind trip of Sebastian Coolidge’s recent immersive exhibit, but equally vivid.

The title Hunger Strike offers a double entendre while pointing to opposite outcomes — the decision to deprive oneself versus the predatory impulse to strike and destroy. Wagher reinforces this irony with a dictionary definition of “hunger strike” before his artist statement, which visitors can read immediately upon entering the installation.

Hunger Strike (noun) : 
a deliberate refusal to eat, undertaken in protest against imprisonment, improper treatment and objectionable conditions. 

Wagher paints the violent act of a dog chasing down a bird  with dense strokes of black and white acrylic paint inside and outside the boundaries of his individual works for sale, bleeding onto the walls and floor with visceral spatters. It’s an ordinary albeit brutal moment in the lives of animals.

The impact of Wagher’s installation stings with the after-burn of allegory, illustrating a pivotal moment in both human and animal nature. According to his artist statement, Hunger Strike‘s central metaphor extends to include an examination of the choices made by society at large:

“The dogs in this show represent the primal predator; their interactions with birds are driven by a raw desire to consume. The dynamic relationship between predator and prey is unrelenting unless a new strength arises in the dog that allows it to let the bird live for its own sake.

Wagher’s black-and-white palette has a multifaceted effect on the viewer, conveying severity but also the black and white and grays of morality. We’re left wondering if we can transcend our appetite for power, destruction and acquisition to show mercy and kindness toward our fellow beings.

The 19-year-old artist further suggests in his artist statement that the latter is possible, implicating the bird as a harbinger of hope and the dog as a creature not doomed to follow its instincts. Likewise, on the walls, we see the bird both in flight and dead on the ground.

“The turmoil in the world today leaves little room for compromise, and so the birds represent a hope for humanity that is as delicate as it is determined to live. The instinct to shut down the other side of a conversation is a gut reaction, but collaboration and community require patience, the willingness to wait for a better solution. These dogs and birds are reminders of a chaotic state that we enter whenever we act without reservations, whenever we forgo compromise. Their interactions serve as a reminder that we are capable of a ‘hunger strike’, of acting above our most base instincts.”
Once again, it was exciting to venture inside an artist’s imagination at the COVE, and the good news is that artist/proprietor Derek Donnelly plans to host more immersive installations by local artists in the future.

“The immersive installations helps generate work for the featured artist, helping to balance the lack of art sales in our tourist area,” he says.  “We will have traditional art shows to choose from time to time as well.”

Justin Wagher’s Hunger Strike can be seen through the Pinellas Park Art Walk on Aug. 26.

—Time lapse by Dan Sheridan Photo

Text by Julie Garisto, photos by Daniel Veintimilla

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*Creative Pinellas welcomes submissions from practicing artists for publication in our artists directory. Such publication does not constitute on endorsement by Creative Pinellas and does not imply a judgement about the quality of the work or the participating artist. For more information or to participate in the directory please visit contact us at info@creativepinellas.org.