Justin Bua is a native New Yorker in every sense of those words. Raised by family but taught by the streets he embodies the toughness that make New Yorkers stand out above the rest. People who can be home anywhere, but only call one place home, it is the muse he credits for giving him his passion and particular style. With his God given talents and natural ability he is able to bring New York to life in a way that few others could and that, definitely, make Bua one of a kind.
A child of Hip-Hop, he brought the images of his own childhood to life with his ground-breaking artwork and best-selling posters, such as, the “DJ”.
After a brief career in commercial art, creating footwear, skateboards and CD’s he has also worked on video games and television.
His first book, “The Beat of Urban Art” explores his life, work and the birth of Hip-Hop through the medium he has learned to master.
And now, with his second book, “The Legends of Hip-Hop”, he once again picks up his brush to bring us some of the icons that launched a revolution in music. From James Brown to Snoop Dogg to Eminem, Bua’s artwork brings them to life in tribute to those very same people who have so greatly influenced his own.
In the following two-part interview, Bua discusses who he chose to paint and why, the artists that have influenced his own work and, most importantly, how a “real” New Yorker” wound up in God-forsaken California … yuk!
Here and now, the man himself … BUA!!
1) When you draw a particular subject do you concentrate on one specific aspect of their personality and build from that or use the entire subject as a whole?
I focus on the face, eyes and interestingly enough the hands. The eyes are the window to the soul and many times I can see through the eyes into the spirit of the sitter. This is what great portraiture is all about. It’s about getting the essence of the subject. Anyone can make a painting look like the sitter but can they capture the essence of the subject? Rembrandt could. He was able to see things only an artist could see–the beauty and the ugliness. That’s why John Singer Sargent said, “everytime I paint a portrait I lost a friend.” Great artists can see things that most of us don’t like to acknowledge.
2) How did you decide who to put in the book and who to leave out?
This book is in no way an authoritative account of the legends but rather a subjective point of view. My point of view. These are the legends that shaped the way I see the world. That being said most of these legends are indisputable because without them we would not have this great culture. For example James Brown is the most sampled artist in Hip Hop, without him we wouldn’t have thousand of songs that have influenced millions of songs. Without James the B-Boy would not have the extensive repertoire of moves at their disposal. Without James I don’t believe there would be Hip Hop. Others, like Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc are instrumental in the evolution in Hip Hop. They are pioneers who gave us this culture and like Atlas put it on their back and carried it for future generations.
3) Has your extensive knowledge of hip-hop culture helped you or hurt you, when it comes to being taken seriously as an artist?
I think in many ways the fine art world is a white washed world that exists in an ivory tower. Conversely, Hip Hop is getting made on the streets; gritty and untamed. It’s a people’s movement. You don’t need an MFA or a PHD to be Hip Hop, you just have to be great. Many Galleries think that because I paint imagery in the Hip Hop world that it is not intellectual enough. I think often times that galleries and museums prefer conceptual art over the old idea of documentation. But like the old masters I am documenting the important peoples’ of our time. Velazquez documented the popes, the aristocracy and the nobility as did Goya. I am doing the same but instead of painting Pope Innocent X as Velazquez once did, I am portraying legends like Melle Mel, Rakim, Jay-Z, Lauren Hill Crazy Legs and Big Daddy Kane. Those are the modern day Kings and Queens who we should pay homage to.
4) Who were some of the artists that might have inspired you as a child and why?
I have always been influenced by artists that have portrayed the people and the “common man”. Painters like Bruegal the Elder, Kathe Kollwitz, Van Gogh, Daumier and Delacroix. These artists struck a chord in me because they showed, in their unique style, the plight of the common man. I was attracted to those Master’s that told the story of the blue collar and the working class man and woman. That was my story and the story of my grandfather that started as a penniless immigrant from Ellis Island. I was also equally struck by artists that were painting around my neighborhood during the time of the Hip Hop renaissance. Artists’ like Futura 2000, Lady Pink and Tracy 168 were vanguards who were artistic leaders and visual freedom fighters, taking back public space with marks of untamed messengers. They co-opted the walls and subway cars and beautified the inner city at a time when New York City was a dirty rotten muddy mess. There was no gallery or museums to call their own. They were artists speaking to the people with words, color and meaning.
I hope you enjoyed the first part of my interview with Justin Bua. If you have, please hit the subscribe button above to automatically receive anymore like it.
And, if you’re a fan of art, Hip-Hop or urban culture, I highly recommend grabbing his book, “The Legends of Hip-Hop”. I think it would make a great Christmas present for all those young music and art enthusiasts that are so hard to buy for.
Coming up, my review of Darrell Hammond’s (hysterical comedienne and gifted impersonator from “Saturday Night Live”) new book, “God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked, as well as, an in-depth interview with Frank Cascio, life-long friend and confidante of Michael Jackson, about his fascinating book, “My Friend Michael”.
As always, you can catch up with all things Anne Rice when you visit my Anne Rice Examiner page.
See ya next time!!