PILOT POINT — Justine Wollaston was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1969 and speaks with an English accent that has inherited a bit of Southern twang since she moved to Texas at age 12.
Wollaston, barely 5 feet 5 inches tall in boots, is a freelance artist with a carefree attitude who can work in any medium.
Even a handful of baling wire can wind up twisted into the shape of a farm animal if left alone with her for too long.
It’s been a decade since she found her reason for being an artist and it started with a controversial nude painting on the top of a building in Pilot Point, she said.
“Wow. I guess it was 10 years ago when I discovered it,” she said. “I realized that the only thing I wanted to do was make people happy.”
In 2003, Wes Miller, owner of the Farmers and Merchants Art Gallery in Pilot Point, commissioned Wollaston to paint a mural on the side of his building. The mural depicts the creation of Eve, similar to the Sistine Chapel painting The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo.
And an apple, representing the forbidden fruit, is suspended between God and Eve.
“If you think of an apple as possibility — you take a bite out of the apple — you’re taking a bite out of possibility,” she said. “So you’re exploring what’s possible for you. And that’s what hopefully anybody does in their life, is that they continually take bites out of apples, they continually take steps off cliffs into this unknown of to whom they might become.”
But Wollaston said that residents, city leaders and the police couldn’t see her message because of Eve’s anatomy.
Shortly after it was completed, Miller started receiving warnings from the Pilot Point police, asking him to take down the mural or face prosecution for violation of state law, which prohibits the distribution of harmful material to children.
To avoid prosecution, Miller placed a “crime scene” banner over a portion of the mural but later sued the city for infringing upon his First Amendment rights and won.
“It was definitely a turning point in my life,” Wollaston said.
Today, Wollaston’s works can be found scattered throughout North Texas. She has had work on display at Southern Methodist University and the State Fair of Texas. Her works can also be found in schools and churches.
And it’s difficult to walk around on the square in Pilot Point and not see a Wollaston original.
“I literally painted a city. Who gets to paint a city?” she said while smiling.
Friend and colleague Warren Blikken said Wollaston is a unique artist who always follows through with whatever she sets out to do.
“That’s what separates her from other artists,” he said. “No matter what — if she says she’s going to do it, just stand back and let her work.”
Blikken said Wollaston is a true artist who isn’t motivated by achieving fame or riches.
“She would probably be happy twirling away in obscurity for the rest of her life as long as she has her art,” he said.
Wollaston is currently completing a mural for a church in Lindsay and editing a short film shot in Pilot Point titled “The Legend of Lowla,” which is about a giant tomato worm that served as a soldier in World War I.
But before finding her passion in art, Wollaston struggled.
“When I was younger, I went through this stage where I wasn’t particularly happy with myself,” she said. “I lost my sense of self. I asked myself, ‘Why am I here?’ It’s a very frustrating question.”
Wollaston said she struggled to understand her purpose in life, describing herself as emotionally bruised.
“I wanted to matter,” she said.
It wasn’t until Wollaston enrolled in college that she realized she wasn’t alone.
“I took a religions of the world class and learned about different concepts that helped me understand the world a little better,” she said.
Inspired by her experiences as a student, Wollaston decided to pursue education. She taught high school science and mathematics for at least a decade.
At first glance, math and science may not seem like an artist’s favorite subjects.
Some often describe people with a knack for creativity as right-brain thinkers, while people who are more analytical are described as left-brainers.
But Wollaston said creativity requires both halves of the brain to connect.
“Without an idea, how can you create art?” she said. “Education fundamentally allowed me to get inside my head and I began questioning myself on a deeper level, and that led to Eve.”
Bev Wollaston, Justine’s mother, said her daughter has always been an artist — even if Justine didn’t realize it. She said when her daughter was about 6 years old, she drew on the walls of their home with markers and crayons.
“There were marks everywhere and we had to repaint, but it was her first mural,” Bev Wollaston said with a laugh. “Justine has always been an artist, but what surprises me is that she always keeps life interesting. It’s very exciting living with her.”
Wollaston described her daughter as an old soul and “extremely wise for her age.”
“She has a very inquisitive mind, and she always has a message to give,” she said. “Justine once told me that she wanted to make people happy with her art. That’s her goal.”
Justine Wollaston said she is driven by bringing joy into someone else’s life through her works.
“Making the momentary difference in someone’s life is powerful,” she said. “Anytime I can do something that brings joy, I know I’m making a fundamental difference to the quality of life here on this planet.”
Being a freelance artist isn’t easy because making a decent living depends on how many jobs are available each month, Wollaston said.
But she said living on a month-to-month income isn’t a concern.
“It is an incredible starter for action and that’s one of the exciting things about living my life,” she said. “I have incredible faith — more now than I have ever had. Somehow, I know things will work out. Somehow, I’ll have work into June. Somehow, I will continue doing what I love doing.”
Though her works can be seen throughout parts of North Texas, Wollaston doesn’t believe she’s famous, nor does she believe her work is done.
However, she said she’s never been happier with her life and how it has shaped her.
“I have a picture of me at 7,” Wollaston said. “I was a terrific kid who believed in magic, and sometimes I imagine I am meeting me again, and most of the time, that kiddo is delighted by the adult she has become.”
JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.