As someone who works in the creative field, it is always a big deal for me to find someone who echoes the same sentiments when it comes to realizing your passion and executing it tenfold, making it your career and something you wake up every morning excited to do. This can be easily stated and more about budding artist & illustrator Justin T. Russo, who has been getting praise and a ton of social media buzz about his set of illustrations called “Government & Gams”.
Per WarpedSpeed– In his series “Government and Gams,” produced exclusively for Warped Speed, Justin T. Russo decided to take famous American leaders (and current hopefuls) and blend their iconic personalities with the (adopted) American art of the pin-up model. This is a version of Peanut Butter and Jelly that I never saw coming, and quite frankly, was quite amused and fascinated by each piece that Justin put out there. His talent is absolutely incredible and if there is anything that makes light of this insane election season we have been having, then he seems to have done that and then some.
I was able to sit down with Justin recently to discuss this and so much more, from his humble beginnings to hopeful future.
So Justin, how did you get involved in the art world in the first place?
I have been drawing since the age of 2, and it felt natural to follow my passion and nourish my skillset; I was coloring in the lines by 3. In high school I decided the best course of action was to take the dive and attend an art program in college. My first job upon graduating was as a studio assistant for Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. The experience was interesting in that my abilities grew but my own work wasn’t being fostered due to time constraints and helping make another artist’s work. After leaving the studio, I’ve had a career within the arts that have dealt with the acquisition of art, allowing me to better focus on my creative ventures on my own time.
I find that anyone who goes into a creative industry, or any industry, has influences that got them there. What were yours?
I always wanted to be a Disney animator growing up and I think the seed was planted early on. My first drawings as a kid were of my favorite cartoons. In high school, my art teacher and English professor both encouraged me to use my talents. Lastly my parents and family are incredibly supportive, even with a less than solid career choice.
Tell me more about Government & Gams. First off.. the name. Why call it that?
The name is pure tongue-in-cheek and I love alliteration. Gams is a total nod to my biggest influence on the project, Betty Grable.
What inspired you to do these types of drawings?
‘Government & Gams’ was an idea that has been in the back of my mind for years, though in different iterations. I’ve always played with gender identity and Classic Hollywood in my art and have tried to connect the two with several projects. I was toying with the concept of female pinups’ heads on beefcake torsos and men in pinup poses. With the current election cycle, I teamed up with Warpedspeed.com to create these drawings.
Society has thrust public figures on a pedestal; We want perfection, someone who personifies Americana. In a way, we worship this idea, as we do pinups. Pinups (and beefcakes) are the modern idealized form. This is a marriage of two similar thoughts. The first thing you see on the news each day is politics. It’s a serious topic and rightfully so. However, there are times when I feel we need to bring some lightheartedness into what is ordinarily a serious manner. I harken back to the biggest star of the World War II (and most famous pinup) Betty Grable bringing warmth and a smile in an era of uncertainty.
With my work, I wanted to showcase more than their ideas but as the political figures they are in reality. I wanted to use issues they are known for in office or on the campaign trail and characterize it in art. Donald Trump likes to blow smoke — and has gotten himself in trouble with women’s rights. What better personification than Monroe in “The Seven Year Itch,” literally having steam blowing up her skirt and the paradigm of scrutiny. As for Hillary, she represents a sort of steeliness about her as she’s had to battle stereotypes and push to shatter the glass ceiling when it comes to women’s rights. I chose her portrait to represent a powerful and masculine in energy based on one of the earliest cinematic he-men, Buster Crabbe. Teddy Roosevelt is epitomized as a jubilant man. Carmen Miranda more than any star of the era embodies the same sensibility.
Mostly I wanted to un-politicize the politics and have fun. I drew a lot of inspiration from Phillipe Halsman’s JUMP series. The artist was able to have figureheads and glamorous stars alike partake in acts of unbridled happiness. Politics — how it’s created and how we prioritize it in society — is definitely a feat worth celebrating, even if it’s through use of presidents’ (and hopefuls’) imagery. And personally, I just wanted to see FDR in fishnets.
The way you blend political figures with pinup models really is quite amazing. Have you thought of doing other types of public figures for this?
The full title of this particular series is GOVERNMENT & GAMS: The Presidential Pinups. I wanted to allow myself the ability to use other historical politicians if just to see Churchill in a romper.
Who has been your most well received picture and why so?
The reaction to the drawings has depended on which politician someone either abhors or loves. The Trump and Clinton especially have received a lot of attention largely because they are both at the forefront of daily conversation. Otherwise, Reagan and his high-kick have been a favorite. I think largely because we all secretly know he wore pumps around the Oval Office…
Furthermore, who has been your favorite to design this election season?
My personal hero is FDR and he was the catalyst for the remaining drawings. However, I think Trump has to be the easiest to draw and play with. His expressions alone make for great caricature.
Outside of Government and Gams, what else would you like to achieve in the art world and beyond?
Ultimately, I aim to be a modern Norman Rockwell: trying to capture the American cultural landscape through art. I’d also like to keep the spirit of the 1940’s as present as possible. It was an era of incredible achievements and artistic endeavors on all fronts, despite such hardships.
How can people find more information about you?