Piano Man II by Justin BUA

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Artist Justin Bua is one of the most ubiquitous artist of his generation.  By painting hip-hop period pieces, he has effectively become one of the culture’s primary historians.  He’s captured hip-hop like Walker Evans or Norman Rockwell captured their generation.  Bua calls his style “distorted urban realism” and he applies it to everything he paints – stylized cityscapes, jazz players, card sharks, B-Ballers, Harlem pool halls.  Publishing giant Harper Collins has just released Bua’s first book, “The Beat of Urban Art.”

Part biography, part catalog, part history, in “The Beat of Urban Art,” words are minimal.  Paintings & Sketches dominate the layout. His life story in technicolor.  Born in Manhattan’s Upper Westside in 1968, Bua’s body of work heavily reflects his childhood in 1970s Gotham.  The first half of the book are sketches of New York City visuals like Spanish Harlem, Single Room Occupancies, the Projects, vagrants, Brooklyn Stickup kids, punks & b-boys.  “New York City has been called a melting pot,” Bua reflects.  “In my era during the birth of hip-hop, it had already melted.

In the second half of the book, Bua offers a revealing glimpse into his personal evolution through his paintings.  “My art makes icons of the men I grew up around,’ he writes.  In his well known paintings like “The DJ’, he celebrates his heroes.  “The DJ is ONE he is everyone,” Bua explains.  “He is ethnically ambiguous because he encompasses all the cultures responsible for both creating turntablism & bringing it to new levels.” “The DJ” has become one of the best selling prints with collage students across North American.

Multicultural themes are central to his work.  In the book’s intro, he says “People ask me what I am. Puerto Rican? Italian? Jewish? African-American? Like my characters, I can’t define myself by any one race.  I have so many different bloodlines flowing through my veins and grew up in such a uniquely integrated culture, that I am just me.  I am part of an urban race united by the city.”

Over the last decade, he has made the transition from New York to Los Angeles.  He’s been in L.A. since 1992 when he relocated to study at the esteemed Pasadena Art Center College of Design.  With both hip-hop historian and former graffiti artist on his resume, he currently teaches classical figure drawing at USC.

Poetpainter Phillip Martin says, “Justin Bua’s work is enriched by a keen mind that cleverly references a vast encyclopediac art history treasure trove. He is a studied man whose subtleties lie in the fact that he is able to weave these influences, this past knowledge with imagination and experience into a highly personal, modern (street/hip hop if you will) art form.”

Schooled art historians know that Bua has been heavily influenced by great Painters like Harlem Renaissance giant Archibald Motley & more recently Ernie Barnes.  While a quick look into their catalog of paintings reveals many similarities, these leviathans effectively and inevitable paved the way for Bua.

Justin Bua is a specialist…a sniper.  His ability to capture the spirit of a generation in a single image is his forte.  “My art is a way of paying tribute to the unsung heroes who I feel give the city its true flavor…,” he says.  “These characters were cool because they were survivors.  They represent….truth, excellence, pride, strength, freedom, & self-expression.” And with this, Justin Bua has built an underworld through his imagination.

 
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