We had the good fortune of connecting with Justin Prough and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Justin, can you share a quote or affirmation with us?
We are living in interesting times. Times of rapid technological, social and environmental change. The likes of which, humanity has never seen before. My coming of age and career have paralleled these waves of change. A constant voyage awash of reflection, deconstruction and rebirth; of self, passion and purpose. “Fake it, till you make it.” seems to be the societal guttural cry so many of us cling to, to weather the changing storm. And with an open mindset it works, but only when underpinned by this: “The more you know, the more you don’t know.” – Aristotle A constant thirst to learn and evolve my skills has helped me adapt and find purpose in the face of constant change. I liken it to climbing a tree in the forest. You climb and climb, you study the branches, you focus on what’s above you and try not to fall. Then when you reach the top, you realize there are a lot more trees to be climbed. The realization is exciting, liberating and truly humbling. As you climb more trees your strength and skills improve, and you realize you can jump to the next tree without having to climb all the way down. Which comes in handy when the tree you’re in is being chopped down. So be strong in what you know, and know, there’s always more to know. Because knowledge is a strong yet flexible tool.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
As a product of California, my work reflects the struggle between sunny days, good waves and the environmental and political unrest of our times. But it wasn’t always. I’m a 5th generation Californian, who grew up surfing and skateboarding along the Santa Cruz coast. I attended the land-locked University of Redlands, where for four years my hunger for the beach was replaced by an obsession with arts, design and technology, which earned me a BA in Studio Arts, Design and a minor in Economics. Returning to the coast, I landed in Los Angeles, where I’ve continued making art while thriving in the LA advertising community for many years. Then in early 2017 I decided to take a break from the Ad biz to renovate a property in Oxnard, work on my “Fictional Reality” fine art series and spend more time with family. In late 2017, I was preparing to jump back into the ad biz when life helped me decide against it. It was a random night in January 2018. I was driving my daughter, Jordan, home from soccer practice. The radio was set to NPR and voices were softly chatting in the background as we slowly made our way down Sepulveda Blvd. My traffic induced mind-fog, quickly cleared when Jordan’s voice cut through the din of talking heads and traffic noise. “Daddy, why does the President hate people like me? You know, people from Africa.” She was 9 years old at the time and had been listening intently to the talking heads on the radio as they discussed the latest rhetorical bile from our country’s Cheeto-N-Chief. The topic, not wanting any more people from “shithole” countries. She was visibly shaken and afraid of being ripped from her home and sent to Ethiopia, the country of her birth. Fielding difficult questions is common in our blended family, but ones squarely in response to rhetoric and behavior of a President? — heartbreaking, disgusting, alarming. Talking her through all of the reasons that this wasn’t going to happen didn’t seem like enough to me. I needed to do something more. Something to reassure her and those besieged because of their differences. Something that would defiantly scream, “No, this isn’t ok, this isn’t just, and this definitely isn’t patriotic.” In that moment my work profoundly changed. I couldn’t continue creating satirically surreal images of California beach culture in the era of Trumpism. It would be the equivalent of sticking my head in the sand. Like so many creative people around our nation, I felt I needed to use my skills to voice my anger. In the following days my Whitewashing of America assemblage series was born. Utilizing white-washed flags, household-objects, graphic lettering, symbolism and layered meanings, I strive to organize my thoughts, and respond with an unapologetic rejection of white supremacy and the demagogue who seeks to divide our nation. Creating this series was deeply personal but something I felt compelled to do for the larger community, because if I could spark one conversation, or change one viewer’s perspective, the work would be worth it. Like a springboard, the Whitewashing of America series has propelled me into my latest series, “Seascapes Found,” where I explore climate change, cognitive dissonance and the California coast, which I call home. So just like that, a simple question asked by a 9-year-old changed what is important to me and the work I want to craft. Creating beautiful things, no long compels me. What does? Creating beautiful things that beckon the viewer to think, explore and question their beliefs and behaviors to help drive change.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
With COVID-19 on the rise again and possibly more stay at home orders coming, I’m gonna dream a little and take this imaginary week off too.
Monday • Our guest arrives, via Uber/Taxi of course. Unless I’m flying, I’m not going anywhere near LAX. • We spend the afternoon catching up while walking the dogs and the kids skateboard along the Exposition Bikeway. We finish the day off with takeout from Hollywood Pies as we plot our week of adventure.
Tuesday • If the surf is on, we’ll head up the coast to County Line for a morning surf. • When we’re surfed out, we’ll crawl across the street for some seafood and a beer at Neptune’s Net, where we’ll watch the comings and goings of humanity you only see along PCH.
Wednesday • If the weather is nice, we’ll pack a lunch from Bay Cities Deli and head up Topanga canyon to Red Rock Canyon Park for a hike with the dogs. When we get to Calabasas Peak, we’ll break for lunch and take in the views. • After hiking all day, we’ll grab a booth at Taiko Japanese in Brentwood to relax, and have some donburi and a frozen beer. • Even though we’ll be totally stuffed, knowing Winston Pies is just across San Vicente will be enough for us to rally for an amazing slice of berry pie.
Thursday • A lazy morning beach bike ride from Will Rogers State Beach down to Venice and then around the marina to El Porto • We’ll eat lunch on the sand at the El Porto Surf Food Stand and spend some time on the sand and bodysurfing before packing it up. • Putting it in gear, we’ll pedal down to Hermosa Beach and up the hill to ShockBoxx Gallery to say hi to Mike Collins and see the latest work on display. • From there, we’d head back down to the Marvin Braude Bike Trail and pedal our way back up towards Will Rogers with a stop at Baja Cantina for drinks, a light dinner and lively conversation.
Friday • We’ll get up and head down to the Mar Vista Farmers Market to walk around and pick-up some fresh produce. • For lunch, we’ll walk over to Rasselbock Kitchen & Beer Garden for their beer sampler and a sausage. • From there we’ll head over to catch the current art exposition at TAG gallery. • We’ll finish off the day with Dinner at Rosalind’s Ethiopian Cuisine.
Saturday • It’s a slow morning, so we’ll head over to John O’Groats for Coffee, biscuits and pancakes. • Then it’s off to see a LA Breakers FC soccer game, because no trip to LA is complete without watching at least one child’s sporting event. • Lunch is definitely at Tacos Tu Madre on Westwood Blvd., where we’ll relive the game highlights and our marathon week. That afternoon, we’ll leave the kiddos at home and head over to Gallery 825 to see the latest show and chat with Peter Mays. Then we’ll cruise down Sunset Blvd. to the Tiki Ti Bar, for some classic tropical grog before we slow roll home below the neon glow of the Blvd.
Sunday • We’re up early to beat the crowd for a surf at Surfrider Beach, second point. • Gilbert’s El Indio is the ticket for lunch. Margaritas and Super Mule Burritos are the best way to recharge after a great surf session. • We’d rounding out the week with an LA style backyard BBQ and movie night with a friends and fam.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
This is a tough one. There are so many friends, colleagues and even acquaintances who have been instrumental at key points along my life’s journey. It’s hard not to give them all shoutouts. So, let’s just go with shoutouts to the most recent and the most important. My first shoutout goes to Kristine Schomaker, from ShoeboxPR.com. In the past, I’ve dipped a toe into the fine art world but chickened out. Her encouragement and insights have been the kick in the ass I needed to finally step out of advertising and push into the larger LA art scene. Without her help, I’d still be sitting on years’ worth of unseen pieces. Yael Prough, the GM of IGN.com and my partner in crime, life and love for the past 25+ years deserves a lifetime of shoutouts. As a rockstar businesswoman, best friend, wife and mother of our two children, I’m inspired and challenged by her daily. Her love and advice have helped me take the calculated risks that have allowed me to pursue a career path that aligns with my interests and dreams. For that, I tribute all we have achieved in life and careers to her.