conversations – Interview by Anika Meier – 21.04.2023
JUSTIN AVERSANO: HEALING THROUGH ART
PHOTOGRAPHY AND NFTS
Justin Aversano has a deep, almost spiritual connection to art. While he has always been creative and has started taking images at an early age, Aversano found comfort in painting and making collages after his mother's passing. Since then, he has been working on projects not only for art's sake but to heal from past trauma.
With his projects TWIN FLAMES and SMOKE AND MIRRORS, Aversano reflects on his individual path while creating deeply emotional art. He connects his art with the world around him by capturing moments, faces, and communities that surround him, bringing them together through the lens of his camera. He has become the most successful photographer to cross over from analogue to the NFT realm. That Aversano sold TWIN FLAMES #83 for the record amount of 1.1 million USD at Christie's has become almost common knowledge.
In conversation with Anika Meier, Justin Aversano discusses his artistic journey, the role of his family, and the process of healing.
Anika Meier: When did you know that you were an artist?
Justin Aversano: Well, I always knew I was an artist. I always liked making art. And even if I didn't know what art was growing up, I felt like I was still doing it. I was always drawing.
It really started out like choreography with toys. When I started skateboarding, I also started photography. And once I started photography, I really understood my life path as being like a visual medium: seeing the world and its beauty. And coming from a world of just being immersed in video games my whole life, I escaped that through photography. I found the real world and started shooting the real world. I saw life again, in a new way, in light and beauty. I started taking portraits of people in 2008, maybe earlier when I was in high school. I have always stuck to photography, skateboarding, and other subcultures, immersing myself in creativity. That's all I ever thought to do.
There was a point when I decided to go to college that I wanted to be a doctor to save my mom and help out with her cancer treatment. But I didn't get in and went to SVA instead. I became an artist professionally and profoundly. So my whole life has just been a synchronistic journey of discovery through art.
AM: Has studying art and its history changed your perspective on art and what it means being an artist?
JA: When I started making art at school, it leveled up my consciousness. I was low vibrational coming out of high school, doing a lot of psychedelics and weed, and getting caught up in that. I broke free after I moved away from Long Island to the city. I found a new group of friends, a whole new universe, and education. The education I received at art school allowed me to come up with concepts because I was studying philosophy. Philosophy completed my artistic practice. I learnt to communicate my ideas clearly in the context of history, both artistic and philosophical. I took photography courses, science classes, and philosophy classes. It not only made me smarter but also made my heart better because I understood how to articulate my feelings and thoughts. I learned how to think, not only the craft, at school. Learning how to think helps make better art.
AM: In school, you started working on your first project. Was this the start of your journey as an artist focusing on elaborate concepts?
JA: I connect with people through art and through the lens.
AM: I guess you've heard this question quite often. How did you find 100 twins?
JM: The first three months are the hardest for any project. You are challenging yourself; you don’t feel like you are doing enough. You feel like shit. And you are scared that you will fail. But once you get past that, you rewire your brain to have a new habit that turns into a daily routine.
Finding 100 twins is something you definitely cannot plan. I asked the twins I photographed if they knew twins. And posting about TWIN FLAMES on Instagram has also helped. There’s always someone who knows twins.
In January, I started working on a new project, but it quickly felt forced. I decided to stop, because it wasn't flowing and it wasn't fulfilling. And it felt like the wrong time and like a job. So I put my pride and ego to the side and I said, "Look, I need to come back to this". First, let me look at everything I've already shot. Let me configure how I want to do this process.
Now it feels right. Now I feel a divine intervention in actually creating something authentic out of necessity.
AM: I know artists who say they need a 9 to 5 routine and need the feeling of going to work.
JA: Creating art should not be in the job. If it's the job for me, it's not going to go well because I'm making something to make money. And that's not in my integrity. I make something to create. If there's a market for it, that’s great. I don't think about any of that. I don't think in numbers or prices. And that hasn't changed for me. No promises. Just creativity.
And I learned my lesson from doing SMOKE AND MIRRORS. I'm still shooting the project and printing it. So I'm selling the project as I'm doing it, which is a good learning experience. But moving forward, I don't want to build in public. I want to have everything completed and released.
AM: How did you start working on SMOKE AND MIRRORS?
JA: Actually, the second I got home from London, where I was for a job. July 18 was the last day of shooting. When I got back to New York, I dropped my film off to develop, and I was already thinking about starting SMOKE AND MIRRORS. And then something magical happened.
I sat in a park. I meditated. I thought about what I was going to do next. I have been seeing tarot decks the whole week. I was thinking that I needed a tarot deck. Ten seconds later, a bold man in a black turtleneck came up and cursed. He stood right in front of me, and the light was shining on me in the sun. And I looked at this guy, and he threw all the tarot cards that he had in the air: It just rained in front of me.
I asked him, "Are you throwing these in the garbage?" He replied, "Yeah, I don't want this sh*t." And then I picked up all the cards. When I looked up, he was gone. I looked all around me to see where he went. He was just gone. Disappeared. Poof.
I counted the cards, and there were 77 cards. While I was picking up the cards, I thought, "Whatever card is missing is my card". When I got home, I laid out all the cards, and I realized that the card that was missing was the Knight of Staffs. I'm the Knight of Staffs. I chose that card because it chose me by being missing.
AM: You tell a story with all your projects. Which chapter is SMOKE AND MIRRORS?
JA: This is the hero's journey. We went from the healing journey of TWIN FLAMES to the hero's journey of SMOKE AND MIRRORS: stepping into your artistic power and finding your true self. I feel like that's why that card was missing—because I had to find myself on this journey.
AM: When you work on a project, do you know exactly how you would like to present it?
JA: Yes, I already know how I want to show it and what I'm going for. I know exactly which camera I will use. For printing SMOKE AND MIRRORS, I chose papyrus. It’s such an esoteric, mystic, ancient paper, and it feels like it has an energy when you're thinking about tarot. I did black-and-white prints and silk screens because I liked alternative printing processes.
AM: What is your recommendation when you meet people who are interested in NFTs and think about getting involved either by collecting or creating them? You and I met on Clubhouse in early 2021. We spent a lot of time together in rooms at Clubhouse discussing photography, digital art, and NFTs.
JA: Yes, we were all learning and educating each other. That helped a lot. It’s missing these days. These days, I really enjoy meeting the people behind the Twitter profiles. I prefer any IRL meeting over a Zoom call.
I ask myself that question every day: "What would be a good recommendation?" I feel like I need to start over every day. It's such a fast-paced space, and you don't want to get comfortable. I just want to continue, and I do that by learning how to stay around. It might sound silly, but I feel like I haven't met my full potential. And I don't want to get to that point where I feel like I know everything. What worked a year ago doesn’t work now. I want to be authentic and help others by sharing.
AM: How do you feel about being that guy with the auction record ? Do you think it's helpful?
JA: I'm practicing to be as humble as possible. In all instances, I don't want to let my ego get in my way. I want to be surprised that people know me. I think it's magical. It's innocent. I want that innocence. I don't want to share that my art sold for a million dollars. I don’t like when people introduce me to people like, "This is Justin. He outsold Ansel Adams."
I don't want to be externally valued by money. I want to value myself. I'm more than just TWIN FLAMES.
AM: Who is Justin Aversano, the artist?
JA: I started with the birthday project. It is all about celebrating life before death. My mother passed away from cancer. I did the whole project for her. She passed away shortly after I finished it. And after she passed away, I was just broken. My girlfriend broke up with me because my mom was dying. And she literally broke up with me right before the funeral. I was a mess, and I needed to do something. So I started collages. I wanted to put photography down because I was burned out, and I was like, "I need to paint." I need to draw. I need to make a collage. And naturally, that was the best thing to do. Because collage is the actual therapeutic art use case.
I created a mixed-media piece every day on a six-by-six canvas and have 365 of them, and they helped me heal from loss. I created something every day versus just dwelling on the sadness. That put me in a really strong and healthy place by the end of it. It made me happy that I challenged myself. There's also a lot of humor and some dark humor in this project, titled COGNITION. Humor talks about the darkest things and brings them to light. That project helped me heal from my mother's passing. So those two projects were associated with my mom before and after her death.
AM: And then TWIN FLAMES?
JA: Yes. TWIN FLAMES to me is shamanic. I had a hole in my heart my whole life. I felt disconnected from myself and from other people. This feeling came from the prenatal wound of having a twin and losing that twin. Not having that connection, being born without that connection, I always feel like there’s a missing part.
TWIN FLAMES is a project for my twin. It brought me closer to my twin and helped me heal from that wound in my heart.
How does death affect your life? How do you heal from being confronted with death?
SMOKE AND MIRRORS is a project for my father. The death card shows him standing next to my mom’s grave. There’s an empty space where his name will be one day. SMOKE AND MIRRORS is about confronting death, confronting the fear of death, and accepting death before it happens.
AM: How do you describe your artistic journey?
JA: My artistic journey is about dealing with death and celebrating life. There is sadness and healing after the death of a loved one. I don’t want to go through the anguish. I want to accept death, confront that fear, and let it go. Face your fears and be as bold and upfront as possible.
Shooting my dad in front of that grave was one of the hardest things I have experienced. And the most intimate thing I've ever done with my father. Who in your life is the core of your trauma and your healing? It's your family. Once you understand that, you understand yourself, and you understand how to heal everyone around you. And not just yourself. It's actually a family unit that's healing together. And this project brings it all together.
My next project is for my sister. I want to honor each member of my family. Healing with my family is my mission, and all my art comes from dealing with death and healing from sadness. I think a lot of people have experiences growing up trauma with their family. I'm facing these things through my art.
Justin Aversano connects his art with the world around him by capturing moments, faces, and communities that surround him, bringing them together through the lens of his camera. He has become the most successful photographer to cross over from analogue to the NFT realm.
At Christie’s, Aversano’s TWIN FLAMES #83 was the first non-fungible token (NFT) lot to be offered in a Photographs auction in October 2021 and realized over one million USD.