Justin Poe provides perilous view of shelter

by Jeff Laughlin

“What if people saw land dwindled down?

Where would you build?” Justin Poe asks the questions in earnest. If humans were reduced to rocks and rubble, would we assume a different take on the importance of shelter?

Or would we still strive to build, however dangerous, on what surfaces we are given? Though Poe’s work would assume the latter, he cautions that misinterpretation might stray from his intended result.

“I interpret places on places, levels within levels,” he said. “Our sense of the manmade world plays with that perspective.”

His defined-scale houses dangle perilously over both the natural and man-made world, giving an extraterrestrial feel, but he intends quite the opposite.

These projects connect ideas. Aesthetically, he pleases the viewer with gorgeous places within places, forcing us to imagine ourselves building shelter where we would never imagine having to. His projects are naturally thought-provoking while simple enough to adorn dining-room tables.

One particular work stacks several gray homes of varying sizes on a winding rise, almost like a mountain of inhabited area with little room between suspended domiciles. The pathways to each house alleviate any suspension of disbelief, but practicality plays very little part in the focus of the piece. An unwieldy tower pokes through the roof of the topmost house, making the whole piece seem antiquated, yet faux lighting and a lanai bring the piece modernity.

Combining ancient architecture with current styles balances Poe’s touch with formality with his respect for natural wonder.

“I like the idea that found objects can be treated like man-made objects. I like to play with that perspective — the idea that people would build on the surfaces of normally disregarded material. I walk around and see moss growing through the sidewalk. It’s kind of like that,” Poe said.

Most of the model homes look like they could adorn the sides of rural highways. He adapted them from his time living in the South—his family moved from Florida to North Carolina around seven years ago and he earned his degree from Guilford College in 2011 in sculpture and theater. He combined those disciplines in these pieces — the artistic eye is there, but it combines with set design and theatricality. He has obviously adapted his skills.

His adaptability plays well with his work.

At times, his landscapes overshadow the farmhouse-like homes while others are as simple as smooth stones, skipping rocks or knotted wood. The homes themselves often perch at the last possible point of safety.

“They are often idealized houses, but edge-of-the-cliff as well,” Poe said. “Most of them are imagined near water like swamps.”

Poe cites multiple reasons for this, but suiseki— a form of Japanese landscape art — inspires Poe a great deal.

“They find stones in rivers or deserts and present them as mountains or as rugged landscapes,” Poe said.

He adds one element, though. Though the form he uses does not seem dramatic, it includes a survivalist concept.

Playing around with this perspective produces several styles while maintaining delicate balance. While suiseke may influence most of his pieces, Poe uses several artistic viewpoints.

Rust-colored nails jut out of the bottom of a wooden landscape of one particular piece. Another builds from crooked chair legs as though humanity spawned from a seat or a tabletop.

In all of Poe’s work, gentle reminders of survival abound. On June 21, he will show his wares at the Center for Visual Artists in Greensboro. The Greensboro Mural Project also commissioned him to make a mural at the IRC building. The now-ongoing project’s theme, fittingly, is “Home.”

In Poe’s work, there’s no place like it.

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