EVER SINCE HE WAS LITTLE, JUSTIN BARRERAS has wanted to leave his mark on the world
written by Jonny Watson
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with art?
Ever since I was a little guy, I’ve loved making a mess, getting paint on things and scribbling. At that age, there’s no concern for creating things the right way, if your art looks good or not, and certainly not if it’s going to create income to pay the bills. Back then creativity just inexplicably felt right in the moment and was fueled by curiosity.
When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
I remember hearing the phrase “starving artist” when I was young and it’ll stick with me for the rest of my life. I had this conception that artists lived a life of financial struggle and the few that we read about in history books didn’t gain recognition until long after they passed.
As a kid, I wholeheartedly believed I’d never pursue a profession in creativity. That didn’t stop me from spending countless hours drawing, getting paint on things, messing up and educating myself in the counterculture of graffiti. I never made anything in the pursuit of money or to be considered an artist. I was just having fun.
After some mischief with graffiti, I started learning about branding agencies and the advertising industry. I quickly learned creatives can make some serious money from their craft. Turns out the act of creating that brought me so much joy, and perhaps some trouble over the years, had the potential to become a career. So I ran with it.
I’m grateful things happened in this order. To turn a passion into a career and means of life has not been easy, but it’s even harder to find passion in a career chosen for money with an end goal of retiring.
When did you start doing graffiti? What initially brought you into that world?
Oh brother. I’ve been asked this question and I continue to ask this question to myself, especially growing up with a cop for a dad. It’s very difficult to justify risking my life to write on a billboard, getting into fights with other graffiti writers for going over my tags, and constantly risking going to jail just to leave a mark. The best answer I’ve been able to come up with is curiosity.
I started noticing stickers slapped on newspaper stands and tags on walls while walking to elementary school with my mom. I wondered what the tags said, who did it, why they did it, and how they did it. I spent countless hours as a child reading books about graffiti, replicating tags I’d see around town, and going out of my way to document graffiti in places and neighborhoods a kid shouldn’t go. I have graffiti to thank for helping realize my passion for creativity.
What is it about roses that you are so attracted to?
Well, I sure love red and my mom had rose bushes in the backyard growing up so maybe that played a subliminal role in the attraction. But to be honest, I never planned to draw so many. I will say in doing so, I’ve come to appreciate them much more.
They have these beautifully striking red pedals that attract your eye and a stem covered in thorns. The contrast in something that’s so beautiful having the ability to ruin your day if you grabbed them is fascinating. Plus they’re just fun to draw. They can bend and morph into damn near any space.
Talk to us about your use of strong, bold linework. When did you realize this was what you wanted to specialize in?
The bold lines are definitely influenced by my roots in graphic design, American traditional tattoos and graffiti. Design taught me to practice simplicity; there’s an old tattoo saying “bold will hold.” Catching massive tags with fat caps and markers was always the most satisfying.
Tell us about your connection to traditional tattoo imagery throughout your art?
I’ve always been a fan of tattoos and the folks within the culture but never thought I’d have any of my own. Then I got one. It was all downhill from there.
I’m fortunate enough to travel a fair amount and cross paths with world renowned tattoo artists. I do my best to get marked up in every new place I visit or live. I can look at each tattoo and remember the day and conversations that were had while I was getting them. It was only natural for iconography from classic tattoo flash to find its way into my work. Daggers, roses, skulls, all that stuff is just fun to draw.
How many places do you think you have tagged “JB was here?”
Dozens? Hundreds?

Call my lawyer [laughs].
For the original article, visit Inked Magazine here.

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