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Justin BUA was born in New York when hip-hop was just a “burgeoning culture”, but he didn’t become a rapper, DJ or producer growing up.  Instead he took hold of the culture in a unique way.  Through art he created his own time capsules for future generations to learn about the historical birth of hip-hop and the New York street culture of that time and he continues to do so today.

“I have a lot of influences from the New York City street culture before it was hip-hop in my work,” explains artist Justin Bua, who also draws classical art influence from his mother and grandmother, both of whom are artists.  “It was a very raw and visceral time.  It was a real time and it was a hard time.”

Print of 1981 by painter Justin BUA  

“I like to represent the elements of hip-hop in a way that’s historical and I think that it’s important for people in their art to document history,” he adds.

“That’s what art is, art I a snapshot of history… I document my culture which is hip-hop.”

His work has been recognized across North America and internationally as far as Japan.  Although you may not know Bua by his name per say, it is without a doubt you’ve come across at least one of his paintings at one tie or another.  His famous DJ or Piano Man II painting are so distinct, so unique it is hard to forget them.

And if for some reason you haven’t see his paintings, you have  more than likely viewed his relents in Slum Village’s award winning “Tainted” music video or in the popular EA Sports videogame “NBA Street”.

Often told he has the ability to “make the ghetto look pretty”, Bua uses his self-titles Distorted Urban Realism style in his work.

“Distorted was the way I saw the world.  New York was a very distorted place,” he explains.  “My friends and I had a very distorted vision of what was going on… I think when you love in a bubble like that you have a crazy, distorted sense of humor… Urban because the characters and images I paint exist in an urban reality… Realism is because I have a very classical background in terms of my drawing and painting and I never overlook the fundamentalism of art… My work is definitely realistically based.”

When Bua started out as an artist he just took whatever jobs he could fine, but he says his first real break came when he was given the opportunity to do slick bottom skateboards in the skateboarding industry.  It was then that he was able to do the type of creative and expressive paintings reflective of the “Bua Style”.  Then the transition came for Bua in the commercial freelance world, and since then Bua has turned into a flourishing brand name.  Companies such as Warner Bros., Sony, Kike, MTV and money others have all knocked on Bua’s door at one time or another, but in addition he has formed Bua Inc. a distribution company for his for his line of posters and limited editions.

“I have a particular vision; people are hiring me for the Bua look, the Bua style, the Bua flavor,” he says reflecting on his freelance experience.  “I’ve always been into doing my own thing.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a hired gun.  I just personally don’t want to be a risk for anybody.  I did it when I first started out, but now my vision is just my vision and my vision is very strong.  You just have more individuality and more freedom.  Freelance market is tough, you got to be a hustler, and you got to be a good businessman… you don’t have to be a good business man if you work in house somewhere. There’s no right or wrong it’s just the particular path I chose.”

Following high school, Bua attended California’s Art Center College of Design and ended up settling on the West coast.  He says primarily the decision was made after realizing all the opportunities for work he had out there, but also because the life was a little easier than it New York one has was used to and the weather was warmer.  But he hasn’t’ forgotten where he came form, nor has the Big Apple forgotten him.  Upon returning recently for the 2005 New York Art Expo he was greeted by 1,000 fans lined up to meet him and receive his autograph.

Over the last five or so years Bua has dedicated some of his time to teaching figure drawing in the Fine Arts Department at the University of Southern California.

Bua says the experience has bettered him as an artist, and it keeps him on his toes.  He describes his students as “very bright” and says he feels greatly privileged to be able to give back and share his knowledge with others.

“It’s a long journey,” is a message he often must instill in his students.  “You have to be very hard working if you want to be an artist. Because it’s something that you do by yourself all the time, you do it in solitude or a lot of people do, it’s very tough for the people to want to get great at it because people these days can be very transparent.  If they don’t see a pot of gold at the end of the tunnel they don’t want to be an artist, because they say, “I could be a musician, or I could be an actor and I could be real famous and I could get respect that way,’ and they don’t want to put in the work behind closed doors to become an artist because it’s a lot of work… I try to impart in a really intense work ethic (for my students).”

 In the near future, Bua has much on the go.  His limited edition Trumpet Manpainting is being released, he’s in works for acquiring his own television show, Bua’s Playground, he has a line of DVD’s dropping in Japan and then in the U.S., he has a line of T-shirts coming out and many other projects on the brinks.  Possibly the one that sits closest to his heart though is the release of his latest work, 1981.

“It’s a snapshot of hip-hop before it was hip-hop,” Bua says of the painting, which he deems his favorite work thus far.  “There is a character doing the windmill. There are about 300 characters in the painting.  It really captures the time… 1981 – that was the time when hip-hop was just percolating and bubbling to the surface and it captures that raw essence of the street.”

Bua has undeniably started a movement with his style of art and admits plenty of people have been influenced by his work.  In closing, Bua notes he welcomes those who use his as a stepping stone to finding their own style, but adds there is not sense in copying, because there is nothing to learn from in taking another’s style.

“When you just completely do my thing, you’re never going to do it as well as I do and never going to know what comes next because I’m always working on getting better myself and you don’t know what I’m thinking or feeling or what my next vision is.”

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