But not so with the works of Justin Toomey, a young self-taught artist whose thought-provoking acrylic paintings will be exibited at Jacob‘s Well, a youth club in Traverse City, from April 7-30. Toomey‘s paintings are inspired by religion, conflict, the subsconscious, history, tragedy and love -- in short, many of the things that spark up the viewer‘s neurons to ponder the meaning of our time here on earth.
For instance, he‘s presently working on a painting, “Anthem of the Disabled“ about a paraplegic friend and the tragic accident which left her in a wheelchair. The painting captures the shock and pain of the event, while preserving the woman‘s keen sense of humanity. Another painting of a pig-headed, all-powerful being offers a jarring viewpoint on religion.
Toomey, 22, has had a life as unusual as his work. He is self-educated, for instance, in both the arts as well as the general sense.
“I had no formal education,“ he says. “I was pulled out of school when I was eight due to the high crime rate in Flint -- out of 300 kids in school, I was the only white student and I ran into problems. So I studied art, math and science at home on my own. There were no rules about it -- I‘m planning to get my GED, but I don‘t know if I need it. I have no urge to get accreditation.“
Lack of a formal education seems to have been no stumbling block for Toomey, who converses at a high level on the arts, history and other subjects. A sous chef at Lulu‘s Bistro in Bellaire, he‘s planning to go to northern Italy to live this fall to pursue his interest in art and history.
“I‘m really going for the experience,“ he says. “I want to see the death camps of Austria and Poland. I want to pay my respects -- there‘s a lot of history and disused energy there and I‘ve always been interested in history.“
Toomey took up painting four years ago after a long-time interest in doodling with a pen. Painting was a spontaneous thing that replaced a passion for mathematics and science. Today, he considers himself “more an expressionist than an artist“ and notes that “human triumph and failure are always good to take in“ as subjects.
Raised an atheist, Toomey has an outsider‘s interest in religion. “I‘m not myself an atheist, but I‘m not a Christian either,“ he says. “I‘ve been reading the Bible and there are a lot of metaphors in it. A lot of people take it as the literal truth, but you have to use it as lessons -- metaphors scrambled by man. In some ways, my paintings are trying to explain it better.“
When Toomey paints, he looks for undertones in his subject which give a clue to their experience, such as the knee surgery scar on a dancer. “I‘m looking for a little piece of their mentality,“ he says.
“I‘d like to go into fine art someday, but I need to know how to paint first,“ he adds. “Maybe someday I‘ll be a portrait artist. When I paint, people give me 50 percent of themselves and I give them 50 percent. A lot of artists paint people to thier likeness, but I look for something behind their eyes.“
Jacob‘s Well is located across from the Grand Traverse Civic Center near the corner of Front and Garfield. Justin Toomey will exhibit 15-20 of his paintings there from April 7-30.