Justin Bua could be called one of the most iconic New York-bred hip hop artists alive.
However, Bua’s riffs are framed, not in iPods: his humanistic and iconic oil paintings portray various characters, real and imagined, of hip-hop history and pop culture.
Bua will be returning to New York City for the opening of an exhibit featuring his work at Pop International on March 25, 2010.
Bua was born and bred in New York City’s upper west side before moving to one of the roughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, East Flatbush. From his youthful years, Bua was exposed to the nascent roots of what would become hip-hop culture.
He wrote graffiti in the era of Taki 183, and breakdanced with Crazylegs, before it was even called breakdancing. From these experiences derive the inspiration that Bua expresses through his art.
Bua received formal art training in high school before earning a BFA in Illustration at the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California. Bua now resides in Southern California with his family, where he is still painting, and teaching figure drawing at USC.
In anticipation of his exhibit opening at Pop International, SoJones was able to get an exclusive interview with Bua. The artist first discussed his experience growing up on the UWS back in the day, saying “You know, we called it the ‘upper best side.’ That was where the beginnings of graf and break dancing were starting to happen. But, this was before they even called it break dancing.”
He also talked about navigating through the rough streets of East Flatbush: “I thought East Harlem was rough, until I moved to Brooklyn… there were a lot of stick-up kids over there. I remember walking down Church Avenue after break dance practice and seeing the stick-up kids, trying to figure out how I was going to avoid them. I would get creative with the different characters that I would invent and act out, so that they wouldn’t mess with me… Most of the time it worked. Unfortunately not always.”
Bua says that he felt like his distinct style is always something that has been inside him, saying “Everyone has their own style. People spend their lives developing it and honing in on it.” He feels like school is a place where artists copy and learn the basics, and fundamentals, the same way that athletes train. After an artist has learned the elementary tools, then they can start to really get authentic with their style.
Bua is a huge fan of the old masters. Rembrandt is one of his favorites. Bua said “You know, these aristocrats would hire Rembrandt to paint their portraits, and he would paint them with these bulbous red alcoholic noses… and that was accurate. Instead of idealizing, Rembrandt humanized his subjects.” As far as contemporary artists go, Bua said that he likes Charles Bragg and Sebastian Kruger. As far as street artists go. Bua said that he is really amazed at how good graffiti has become and admires the work of Banksy, a famous British graffiti artist who guards his true identity.
Bua has previously launched a clothing line as well as some limited edition PF Flyers that he designed, which sold out. He stated that some huge things are in the works relating to the Bua clothing line, but that he wasn’t currently at liberty to discuss the details.
If Bua could choose a designer to work on a collaboration with, his top choices would be Valentino or Jean Paul Gaultier. He said “I like really clean simple designs, with a graphic. I like denims.” In the shoe department, Bua keeps it real with the classics: Nike Dunks, Adidas and Puma.
In addition to digging on old school hip hop, Bua said that he is really into Ben Harper lately. He said that he has also gotten into a lot of contemporary pop because of his daughter. But his music interests don’t stop there. Bua has been hosting a series on Ovationtv.com called “American Revolutionaries” which has featured the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Truman Capote. Bua said that working on the series has rekindled his interest in some of the older great musicians, and because of that they have found their way back into his playlist lately.
According to Bua, fans can expect a good mix of old and new at the gallery exhibit opening, Thursday. The infamous “DJ” piece will be on display, as well as the autographed portrait of Ali. Among the other portraits, Jay Z and Kool Herc will be on display.
Be sure to attend the gallery opening party on Thursday, March 25 at Pop International (473 West Broadway New York, NY 10012), starting at 8:30 PM. Tell ’em SoJones sent you.