Justin downsizes, closes Seaside gallery

Artist of the Year 2005, Justin Gaffrey (right), donated a piece of his artwork to Sacred Heart Hospital on the Emerald Coast in 2013.

Walton County's 2005 Artist of the Year, Justin Gaffrey, is closing his Seaside gallery.

However, Gaffrey wants to make it clear that he will continue to paint, just on his own terms.

Gaffrey has worked hard and long hours since his teens and his success is proof of that.

After working 10-12-hour days for so long, though, he wants to scale back.

Gaffrey began working in kitchens in Destin at the age of 18 and opened his own restaurant -- Cafe Sublime -- at Gulf Place in 1999. He had young children at the time and discovering that being a restaurant owner was consuming all his time, he made the decision to close it.

After taking a year off, in 2001 he picked up some paint brushes and threw himself into launching a career as an artist.

"I like making things and creating things," he said.

However, Gaffrey found himself working the same long hours to make his art business a success as he had before as a chef. But the hard work paid off and people took note of his talent and unique style. He began signing his artwork as simply "Justin."

Gaffrey was awarded the title of Walton County Artist of the Year in 2005.

In 2008 his work took center stage at World Six Gallery in Rosemary Beach before he moved on to open his own gallery at Seaside in 2009.

The Seaside gallery carried only his work, however, and he had to create every piece in the store, which he found exhausting.

"For the past few years I have found myself wanting to go in a different direction than I am going," said Gaffrey. "I get worn out. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy what I do, but I am doing it for others and not myself. I want to do more of what I want to do, and decided to make some changes."

In September, Gaffrey discovered the art of metal sculpting.

"I like building things that tell a story," he said. "I want to do that using metal sculpture but can't while constantly painting. My perception of art now is different from what it was when I started. Now it's not just about making cool and pretty things. I want to create free-standing pieces that have less boundaries."

The artist is currently working on a series that he feels asks the question "Who we think we are?"

"All pieces come back to that beam," he said.

To be able to pursue this new interest, Gaffrey made the decision to downsize and scale back.

"I want step into who I really am instead of who the world wants me to be," he said. "Who am I? That's an unanswerable question. It's not who I am but stepping into being world free and liberated to be who I want to be."

Gaffrey feels his new pursuit is not out of step with his original footprints.

"I used to build furniture. It's a reality that I know I love building things," he said. "I am just closing the Seaside store to reduce my obligation to art and have more time to travel and do shows. I will still have my original Blue Mountain Beach gallery. I'm just coming home. I'm excited and open for whatever and open to where it takes me. It's about introspection and breaking out of who we are. Who knows where it will take me. I'm not going to stop painting, I enjoy doing it, just not as much."

Gaffrey's Blue Mountain Beach gallery will be open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.