About Me

Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Rocko The Intern

July 2010 - January 2013
Justin Bua – Chronicling Cool
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Growing up in New York City in the 70’s and 80’s Justin Bua received quite the education in both the struggles of survival and the birth of Hip-Hop. Through his artwork he found a way to combine the two experiences. Bua attended the Art Center College of Design, earning his BFA in illustration and shortly after graduation he started doing slick bottom skateboards for Plan B and New Deal. Working with skateboards quickly turned into being commissioned to do record covers, book covers and magazine covers and in the early 90’s he started doing commercial work with a poster company in NYC. Earlier this year Bua released The Beat of Urban Art: The Art of Justin Bua, a book that’s a retrospective of both his art and his life growing up in NYC. This week I sat down with him to discuss the book, what the concept of cool has to do with his work, and how getting to a Rodney Dangerfield show nearly cost him his life.

Adam Bernard: The Beat of Urban Art is a history of not just your work, but also your city and your life. How did you feel about putting all of yourself out there like that?
Justin Bua: I really felt that it was important in order to describe my work to really describe my experience because my work is about my experience and my experience is really documenting, visually, the birth of the Hip-Hop culture and conversely the way the Hip-Hop culture birthed the artist in me. It was a very symbiotic relationship with the streets of New York City and my life. I was really learning and seeing and growing in New York and at the same time feeding off of all of this imagery that would later come out in my work.

Adam Bernard: Who or what influenced you the most growing up? Was it an artist?
Justin Bua: I think it was graffiti on the walls in New York City, just going out as a kid and looking at all the murals. I think it was also the art on my walls. There was Rembrandt, Katie Kollwitz, Van Ike, a lot of the old masters, particularly the Eastern Europeans, the Dutch. Van Gogh was on my wall. Also, my mom was a painter and my grandfather was a sculptor and a comic book letterer, he did Felix the Cat as well as Prince Valiant. He was old school. My mom’s art and his art were kind of dark, brooding, emotional, I think I kind of got my emotional bearings from having all of their art on the walls.

Adam Bernard: You went from the streets of NYC to the halls of the Art Center College of Design in Massachusetts. Any good college stories you can share?
Justin Bua: I hitchhiked to a Rodney Dangerfield concert in Springfield in college by myself. A coal miner gave me a ride. It’s a really weird story. He gave me a ride from Amherst to some bizarre hill and it was snowing and I was actually left out there, I thought I was gonna die. He just said “I can’t go on anymore. This is it. You gotta get out, boy.” I was like this is some bullshit, so I got out, it started to snow, I had very little food and started to really freak out and panic because there was nothing around me, I was on this fucking hill in the mountain somewhere in Connecticut or Massachusetts, I didn’t know which I was in at that point. I basically flagged a car down and I lucked out with a couple of girls who were actually going to Springfield so they dropped me off where the concert as. It was crazy. I could have died.

Adam Bernard: For Rodney Dangerfield.
Justin Bua: For Rodney Dangerfield. I think he was one of the greatest comedians of all time.

Adam Bernard: In your work you seem to be especially attracted to performers, most notably musicians. What roles does music play in your life?
Justin Bua: Music is just straight up cool and I’m attracted to anything that’s cool, anything that’s raw and real, because that’s what I aspire to be. I grew up with Hip-Hop, obviously, so I always had a love and an understanding of Hip-Hop, but I was also always a big fan of jazz and jazz is just straight up cool. It’s similar to the rhythms of Hip-Hop in the respect that it’s improvisational. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have the basics and the fundamentals, of course you do, but it’s really all about the freestyle of improvisation and at the same time you can’t name me one jazz musician that’s not cool.

Adam Bernard: While improvisation is cool, for your art you have to be extremely detailed. How do you go about that process?
Justin Bua: A lot of research. For instance when I did 1981 (seen above), the breakdance piece, I wanted to make sure that the hands were in the right place and the savior fare of their dress and style was right, and when I do a guitar player I have to make sure he’s playing a chord and why that chord is relevant to my painting.

Adam Bernard: You’re no longer in NYC. What was that transition like when you moved away from New York?
Justin Bua: When I moved out of the city I moved to Brooklyn and that was a hardcore transition because it was just so harsh, but then moving from Brooklyn to California, I first went to Massachusetts to go to school, but then I came to California, that was a big transition man, it was just different. It was slow, it was mellow, it was nice, not necessarily in a real nice way but in a fake nice way, so I missed the realness of New York, I missed the hustle in the city, but then after a while with all the space and the weather, being able to go on your porch in January and to just say I’m gonna go catch five minutes of sun, I mean c’mon, you can’t beat that with a baseball bat.

Adam Bernard: You’re doing really well now, but every artist starves at some point in their lives, so I’m guessing you have a few “starving artist” stories of your own.
Justin Bua: Oh yeah, definitely. I’m always worried about paying the bills, keeping the lights on, missing an opportunity, but there was definitely a lot of hustle. I was living in a roach motel when I graduated Art Center above The Onyx here in LA and had gigantic cockroaches crawling over my face. I was broke. There was barely enough money to afford eating. That’s when I was doing slick bottom skateboards. There was definitely a lot of insecurity about if I was gonna make it, am I good enough?

Adam Bernard: Is there any part of yourself that’s hidden, that people wouldn’t know just by looking at your work?
Justin Bua: Well you know a lot of people think I’m a great graffiti writer which is completely contrary. I never became a great graffiti writer, but I think the aspiration of being cool, like we talked about before, what cool is obviously people have interpretations of, but I think my lack of having a father and my growing up in a neighborhood with so many people who were cool is why I give praise to those kids and cats in my neighborhood who were cool.

Adam Bernard: Finally, has your definition of cool changed over the years?
Justin Bua: Yeah, bit it’s still cool, man. You can’t deny the essence of cool. Cool is a state of being, you feel cool when you’re around cool. Cool is really just being comfortable in your own skin and to me it’s still being able to embody strength without having to perpetrate.

For more Justin Bua check out myspace.com/justinbua.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 7:41 AM  
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