Opening UC Santa Cruz's weekend of hip hop celebration at the Media Center tonight, Bua presents a collection of his most personal, never-before-seen-in-public work, focused on early character drawings.
"This is my raw stuff," he said. "Drawn on napkins, Post-It notes, and sketch books, this work represents who I am more than any other."
The first half of Bua's presentation centers on what he calls "the cast of characters inside my imagination." In the second half, he shares his process of becoming an artist, including thumbnail sketches, value and color keys, which he is in the process of organizing into two books.
Justin Bua burst onto the arts scene 10 years ago with his liquidly angular images of musicians, deejays and artists that drew life from the same rhythms and poses as the breaking, popping, and locking of break dance.
Born to a single mom - also a painter -in 1968, and raised as a latch-key kid in the Upper West Side, Bua was hanging out at Rock Steady Park when hip hop culture rose up as a peaceful response to the violent streets. Before he found his way as an artist, he traveled around the world with breaking crews, New York Express and Dynamic Breakers.
His current work-in-progress - "1981" - is about that time and its heroes.
"That time was the high renaissance of B-Boy (break boy) culture and the hip hop movement," Bua said.
"It was a time when people came together from all walks of life to dance and to be somebody in a nonviolent peaceful way. It was a time when hip hop was still owned by the kids."
Paying tribute to aspects of hip hop culture that continue to evolve and sometimes defy commercialization is what drives Bua to the drawing board.
In "1981," the characters are executing a break move called the continuous back spin, invented by hip hop pioneer "Crazy Legs" (Richie Colon). Since then, breakdancers have been influenced by the movement of yoga, capoeira and gymnastics.
"It has gone way beyond where anyone could have foreseen," Bua said. "It has entered another dimension of time and space."