Inspired by Nautical Flags, an LA Painter Dives into the Power of Repetition

  • Image courtesy of Cordesa Fine Art.

    Image courtesy of Cordesa Fine Art.

Justin Waugh’s latest paintings look something like origami made with Italian marbled paper. Yet this particular stream of inspiration flows from his chance discovery of a book about nautical flags, which led him deeper into an examination of geometry and different forms of communication. In light of “Angles and Planes,” his recent exhibition at Cordesa Fine Art, we caught up with the Los Angeles–based artist to hear about his early interest in architecture, a childhood spent on the water, and his fascination with repetition.

Artsy: “Angles and Planes” centers on geometric shapes. Were you interested in geometry or mathematics from a young age?

Justin Waugh: I hated math until we reached geometry. I’ve always been a visual person and loved drawing, so once we got into shapes and forms, I was all in.

Artsy: What do your latest works have to do with architecture?

Waugh: I’ve had an interest in architecture since I was very young. This interest has informed the way I think about creating a painting and the way that the components of a work can act as a structure within the picture plane, both physically and psychologically.

Artsy: Your new paintings, with their flat areas of bold colors, are reminiscent of work by Mark Rothko or even Piet Mondrian. Have these, or any other artists, influenced your practice?

Waugh: I love both of those artists and find their work fascinating, but more on a conceptual or practice-based level. Their drive and commitment to their particularly focused and refined ways of working are very influential to my practice and thought process. I’m also heavily indebted to artists such as Sol LeWitt, Agnes Martin, Jasper Johns, Glenn Ligon, and Blinky Palermo.

Artsy: You’ve said that some of the shapes in your new paintings were inspired by nautical signal flags. How so?

Waugh: I grew up in a family that spent practically half its time on the water. I’ve always been in and around boats and various bodies of water. On the other hand, my work has focused on pattern and repetition for many years, and a chance find of a book on signal flags and signs brought those two aspects of my life together. My earlier work began to lean toward the use of suggestive and oblique forms of language, and this combination allowed me to further explore the metaphorical use of signals, language, and communication.

Artsy: Could you explain more about your fascination with repetition? Is this the reason you don’t title your individual works?

Waugh: I think repetition is a very powerful form of expression across many artistic forms. It has seemingly been used since we have had the ability to communicate, in order to reach a trance-like or heightened state of awareness or being.

I am also interested in the way a particular form can take on new and unexpected meanings when combined with other similar forms to suggest language or an attempt at communication. With regard to my work, I find that a descriptive title referring to the form in the painting works best for what I am trying to convey. I like the deadpan quality of a title, such as “Triangle Painting #34,” and the way it implies a series of works that explore a theme and constitute an expanding and interrelated body of work.


—Bridget Gleeson


Justin Waugh: Angles and Planes” was on view at Cordesa Fine Art, Los Angeles, Sept. 9–Oct. 8, 2016.

See more artists from Cordesa Fine Art on Artsy.