Joshua Flint’s work is based on images gathered from many sources, such as digitized museum archives, vintage shops, and social media platforms. His oil paintings elegantly blend nostalgia with the modern-day, crisp lines and blurred brushstrokes working together to create suggested narratives of intersecting lives. Using these sources for his paintings allows a certain distance to reinterpret as he sees fit. Flint can see this person or place in a photograph but knows nothing about what is going on beyond those borders. That ambiguity, between the seen and unseen, between the real and the imaginary, is where his paintings live.
Is it from a dream? A nightmare? Who knows. But the sense of tension is something Flint is trying to create in every painting. He’s had viewers of the same painting provide opposing emotional feedback which Flint finds both useful and curious. Layered into his works are references to memory, liminality, ecological issues, neuroscience, psychological states, and the history of painting, among others.
And this is from someone who never planned on being an artist. He went to university to study environmental sciences, like Forestry and Wildlife Ecology. Now, when asked what drives him to paint? He couldn’t imagine any other life.
Bridgeliner: Your paintings have a dreamlike quality. Some would say a nightmare quality. Do you agree? Is this your intent?
Joshua Flint: Any personal response to a painting, or any art for that matter, is very subjective and derives from one’s own experiences and even current mood. I’ve seen one person view my painting as a little strange or dark and another person say that they see hope in the very same piece. A good painting lives and changes as you change but never becomes dull.
Bridgeliner: You’ve studied in China. How did that experience influence your art?
Joshua Flint: It was a great experience that opened my eyes to different approaches to painting, both emotionally and conceptually. Right now, China and Chinese artists are having a big influence on the art world in terms of notable galleries and accomplished artists. I’ve paid attention to China’s importance to the global conversation around art ever since. One painter I think is doing tremendous work right now is Jia Aili.
Bridgeliner: What does success mean to you? Are you there yet?
Joshua Flint: In the arts everyone must decide for themselves what success looks like. There are a lot of different art worlds to participate in, which you realize after being a professional and gaining experience. I’d recommend a great book by Sharon Louden called The Artist as Culture Producer: Living and Sustaining a Creative Life to engage with this topic. I really define success as being able to go into my studio and create every day. I’m grateful for that.
Bridgeliner: Do you always begin every painting on the computer?
Joshua Flint: No, I get bored easily so I’m always adjusting how I begin a painting. Sometimes it’s directly from a small sketch, other times I create an abstract surface and then layer imagery on top of it, other times I begin with a single element or object, then build the rest of the painting from there. At some point I go into the computer to test ideas and broaden the possibilities.
Bridgeliner: How do you determine what size you’re going to work on? You have some paintings that are letter size, and some that are 6 feet x 5 feet.
Joshua Flint: This is all about a feeling I get from the idea. The concept always guides the size. I find equal power can be created in small paintings much like in a large painting. A smaller painting might be more of a challenge to have that presence but I think it’s possible. Just look at Vermeer, all small-scale worlds we can immerse ourselves. They’re very powerful and engaging. A contemporary artist that makes powerful small paintings is Jennifer Packer.
Bridgeliner: There is a recurring white mountain in some of your paintings. Is there significance to this image?
Joshua Flint: These geological features have shaped our concept of the self and taught us much about the natural world and human endeavor across time and culture. The German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich linked mountains, and all of nature, to contemplation, freedom, and creativity; ultimately pointing towards the grand possibility of human aspirations. Poets like Byron, Shelley, and Keats and philosophers such as Nietzsche and Ruskin, reinforced this growing sense of insight provided by nature and specifically to mountains. This interplay between the physical space we travel through and the universe within is symbolized in the mountain. Mountains of the Mind, by Robert Macfarlane is a lovely read on the cultural importance of the mountain.
Bridgeliner: You’ve been painting for nearly 20 years and now you teach at the university level. What’s your impression of the next generation of artists?
Joshua Flint: That old adage of “they grow up so fast” comes to mind. Nowadays many students enter into art school with some strong aspects to their practice or know exactly what career they are working towards. The ability to share information on the internet is the driving factor. There’s so much at their fingertips. They can use social media to know what is required of them in certain professions and can glean insight from their heroes. That insight is beneficial and it shows.
Bridgeliner: Do you ever work from a photograph that you have taken?
Joshua Flint: Yes, often there are numerous references I utilize to make my work and that includes my own.
Bridgeliner: Talk about the importance of making mistakes in art – how some have horrified you and others have been a blessing.
Joshua Flint: Mistakes come with the territory. They can equally ruin a painting or make it better. I’ve had my fair share of both. Take risks, make lots of mistakes, and be a good editor. That last part is key.
Bridgeliner: What role does the artist have in society?
Joshua Flint: That’s a good question. I don’t know how to answer that. How much time do you have?
Bridgeliner: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about your art? And the best piece of advice you would give?
Joshua Flint: I’ve received this advice: Have a small constellation of artists as reference points pulled from art history that guide you on your journey. They will provide clarity to your efforts and will be a safety net when you are second-guessing yourself or feeling low.
I’d give this advice: Find or create a network of people around you to grow together in the arts, regardless of discipline. Having others to cheer you on or share in accomplishments is very gratifying and good for one’s maturity and health. It’ll allow you to reach higher and take on more. Let that group fuel your ambition and help you be more resilient. And, of course, there are inevitably many disappointments within the arts, having friends and colleagues around will help you get over these faster. Lastly, if you can find a mentor, they can help you learn about the business side and enhance your professional practice in the studio.
Bridgeliner: Let’s talk about Portland. What has Portland meant to your art?
Joshua Flint: This city has given me a platform to grow as an artist. For that I’m forever grateful.
Bridgeliner: How has the Portland art community helped you?
Joshua Flint: This is a tricky one. I’m more of a lone wolf in this regard and don’t have an artistic community around me, to my detriment I’d say. My path has led me to live here but I show my works across the country. My support network is mainly comprised of artists that don’t live in Portland. I should say that my colleagues and the students at PNCA (Pacific Northwest College of Art) are a great source of inspiration.
Bridgeliner: What’s your favorite restaurant in Portland and why? What do you order?
Joshua Flint: I’m a pretty good cook so I’d probably say my kitchen given the state of the Pandemic and its effect on things. However, the Apple Delicata sandwich at P’s and Q’s Market is a winner and the Swedish meatballs at Broders come to mind.
Bridgeliner: You’re stuck on a deserted island. You can only grab one tool out of your art box. What was it? Why?
Joshua Flint: I’d probably take a big bucket of Gesso so I could spell out SOS on the beach in big white letters that would harden and be a permanent distress signal. Get me out of there!
Bridgeliner: Is there anything we’ve not asked you that you wish we had? (If so, don’t forget to add the answer!)
Joshua Flint: Nope, this has been fun. Thank you.
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