For the last ten years artist Justin Bua has been making a mark with his urban flavored paintings. His combination of graffiti-esque style, distorted realism and urban themes has made his paintings some of the most popular art among young people today. Bua's work is available nationwide at stores like Z Gallerie, Deck the Walls and Prints Plus. However, the biggest markets for his work are the college campuses in America and Canada, where he is a best seller. Justin has an energetic and vocal fan base that ranges from high school skateboarders and college students across the globe to Hollywood actors like Robert De Niro and Christina Ricci.
Justin Bua was born in 1968 and grew up in New York City's untamed, upper-west side. An only child, Bua was raised by a single working mom. He was a true latch key kid, spending most of his time in the streets. He grew up next to a welfare hotel, which was a home for drug addicts, the mentally ill and many other interesting characters that would later appear in his paintings. Bua was fascinated by the raw, visceral Manhattan street life and found himself spending most of his time hanging out at places like Rock Steady Park and the Douglas Projects. These environments inspired many paintings, for example, RISING is a painting that exemplifies the poetic struggle to rise above the insurmountable stigma of the projects," says Bua.
At age 13, Bua was accepted on an art scholarship to the High School of Music and Performing Arts where he studied visual art. In addition to his studies in school, he continued his "education" on the streets writing graffiti and breakdancing. Completely engrossed with breakdancing, Bua joined two professional breaking crews, The New York Express and The Dynamic Breakers. At 16 years old, he took a year off from school to perform with The New York Express in over a hundred shows all over the world including the Spoleto Festivals in Charleston, South Carolina and Spoleto, Italy.
At age twenty, Bua was accepted to the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA where he earned a B.F.A in Illustration. At Art Center, Bua learned the technical skills that allowed him to unleash his creativity. As he remembers, "Before I went to Art Center I had a lot to say but I couldn't express myself. After I graduated I was able to articulate my art more clearly. It all started to come together for me. My style became a visually distorted expression of my childhood memories. The passion I had for breakdancing started to come through in my art. I began to bring the rhythms of the streets and breakdancing into the designs and compositions on canvas. Like in PIANO MAN 1, the geometric stylizations of his jacket and the piano are very similar to the movements of breaking."
Bua started out doing slick bottom paintings for the skateboard industry and signed with a distributor, American Vision Gallery, for a line of fine art posters. He quickly made his way into the commercial freelance world where he did numerous CD covers, for companies such as Warner Bros., Atlantic Records, Sony Music and BMG Music as well as advertising work for clients like Weiden and Kennedy and The Nike Corporation.In 1999, Bua realized he could take the characters in his paintings to the next level by animating them. He created the opening title sequence for MTV's The Lyricist Lounge Show. After that, he created Urbania, a world without race, as an animation series for Comedy Central. Urbania is a smart comedy that combines hip-hop culture, visually stunning animation, and original stories to create compelling urban fables. Urbania recognizes the humor in the darkness of urban life. It's a fictional city that exists in a parallel universe to ours where no distinct races exist. A melting pot that has already melted. A true interpretation of urban life today. Urbania follows the wild adventures of two oddly matched city slackers Squatty, a professional breakdancer at Bar Mitzvahs, and his best friend Juisto, a DJ.
In a process that took over two years, Bua conceived, created and wrote six episodes of Urbania as well as animating and producing a half-hour pilot for Comedy Central. Unfortunately, due to the mysterious nature of network TV the show never aired. Bua's complete absorption in Urbania halted the creation of his own fine art paintings for almost two years. Feeling burned out and confused about his goals, Bua passed on other offers to create shows.
At his lowest point, Bua began receiving e-mails from all over the world, from fans conveying how important his work was for them. It was at this point that he returned to his original love, painting. "I received e-mails from people who said they didn't even like art but related to my style of art. It inspired me with a passion and intensity to pick up my brush and paint again. I had no idea that I had such a following. My fans' letters really helped me rekindle my enthusiasm to paint again."
Justin Bua's art is a phenomenon among the youth. He is actually the number one selling living artist among college students. They can relate to his perspective of the world. Art can be intimidating because it can be insular, but Bua's art is accessible. As he notes, "My painting is a reflection of how I grew up, and how many other people in this generation grew up in an urban, multicultural, hip-hop influenced world. People relate to that." For example, his painting entitled, GREEN STREET, sold only six posters in the first two years of its release but once it was introduced to the college market they sold thousands overnight.
Recently, he has painted several new pieces including COMO
NO, a portrait of a man born from the loins of the streets,
EL GUITARISTA...a musician dreamily playing his guitar at sunset
in the city, and DEL CORAZON, a man playing his heart out on
the congas. Bua has just released THE DJ, a piece that he describes
as "my best work ever!!" In addition, he is working
on a breakdance painting. "This piece represents the old
school, the unique funky style of the early 80's, a nostalgic
time before hip-hop and breakdancing was commercialized. A time
when we danced for pure enjoyment, when we came together from
all walks of life to freely express ourselves."