Justin in front of one of his murals that is painted on the side of a house; the mural is black and white and features a fox, a dragon, and other creatures and a woman in a headdress reminiscent of Medusa's snakes

Justin Camilli DAM Exhibition Assistant and Artist

In addition to working at the Denver Art Museum, many of our staff members are engaged with the local creative community in a variety of ways. In a series of articles, we'd like to introduce you to some of the creatives and artists on our staff. Meet Justin Camilli who works in two departments at the DAM.

What do you do at the museum?

I split my time between the exhibitions and conservation departments. In exhibitions, I do production work, which can include constructing pedestals, laying out future exhibitions, putting up walls, patching, painting, and so much more. The production crew does all of the behind-the-scenes work the keeps the museum looking perfect. In conservation I work as an assistant mountmaker. This position has me working directly with the objects to fabricate mounts that will hold the objects safely and soundly. I get to work alongside the amazing conservation crew to determine the safest way to protect the object while also thinking creatively to make the mount disappear to the eye. I love working in both of these positions, and my coworkers are wonderful.

How long have you worked here?

I’ve been working at the DAM for a little over a year and a half.

Do you have a creative practice outside the museum? How would you describe it?

I am a painter and printmaker, but recently my practice has expanded to murals and sculpture. My focus is typically nature and its interaction with the human experience. Lately I have been making work that is a contemporary response to 19th century American western landscape painters and ideas of romanticism and divine providence. My paintings are magical interpretations of inner landscapes that blend imagined and actual realities. The pieces use humor, whimsy, and beauty to convince the viewer to see a more poignant meaning underneath.

What led to you becoming an artist?

As a kid I was really into comics and anime TV shows, so from an early age I was trying to replicate my favorite characters on paper. I think that is also what has inspired my graphic style to this day. I grew up in Albuquerque, NM, so the influence of beautiful Native art was all around me. The rugs and blankets from local pueblos, the colors of the adobe houses, and even the landscape itself all created a rich influence for my subconscious.

artwork real and fantasy creatures in a magical landscape

© and courtesy of Justin Camilli

What’s your motivation when making art?

I want my work to get a reaction out of the viewer, whether it’s good or bad. Any reaction is a win. These days we are all so overstimulated with images and videos grabbing our attention every second of every day. I would be happy if someone just gets off the roller coaster for a second and actual sees me, actually sees the art for what it is and not just a pretty thing. That would be a win to me.

What advice would you offer someone about pursuing a creative practice?

Develop a love for the practice that exists and thrives without outside forces, without positive reinforcement, without Instagram or likes, or the thought of being famous or something. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t show your work and be proud of it. You absolutely should. Humans make artwork as a way to document their existence and share their experience, and showing it to others is part of that. I only mean that if someone is really going to commit their life to making pictures and spending all of that alone time in their head and in their studio, then they really have to love it; for no one else but themselves and their art.

Other than the DAM, where do you recommend people go to either participate in an artistic/creative effort or see/support others’ artistic/creative efforts?

RedLine has an awesome show up right now. If you’ve never been there, I would highly recommend it. They’ve been offering an immense amount of support to local artists, musicians, and venues during the pandemic. They are a very important member of the Denver art community.

Leon Gallery also has an awesome show right now. It’s a wonderful space that gives opportunities to local artists. The shows there have been amazing.

Lane Meyer Projects is one of my favorite galleries in Denver. It’s a small space attached to Pon Pon, which is a charming small bar in RiNo. Unfortunately, they’ve had to postpone their larger shows during the pandemic, but they’ve started up a new program where they feature one artist’s work in their storefront window so anyone on the street can appreciate it anytime of day.