Justin BUA is a certified legend in the world of underground art and hip hop culture. And when a living legend says he is working on a new project that he calls, “the most-game changing project he has ever done,” it’s worth paying attention. He is set to launch his online art school (BuaArtSchool.com) this summer. The BUA Art School is a brand new interactive project for the NYC born artist. Not only will the online school give people the opportunity to learn directly from BUA, it allows people direct access to BUA for a precedent setting affordable cost.
Speaking from his studio in Cali, in this exclusive Cheats Movement interview, BUA speaks openly about the online school, his motivation, fatherhood, and recent events, like his tribute to Jason Collins. The author of instant classic books “The Beat of Urban Art” and “The Legends of Hip Hop” has always been a groundbreaking renaissance man. He hopes his latest project creates even more opportunities for those looking to blaze their own path.
Cheats: What’s good BUA. I know that your time is short so I will say a quick thanks and jump right into what is new with you. Tell me about your brand new Online Art School?
BUA: It’s all going to happen at: BuaArtSchool.com. And what it is? I’m teaching about 250 lessons, each lesson is going to be about 4 to 8 minutes long and it will cover everything from art fundamentals, to the intermediate level, advanced level, and even Master level lessons. Not only will I teach drawing and painting, I am also going to be teaching about the business of art and art history. It’s going to get very deep into the science of art, the physics of art, into color and value. I’m really going everywhere an artist needs to go. It’s really important and really groundbreaking because it is accessible to everybody. When I was teaching at USC, one class would cost around $4,000. This school for the entire year is around $250. Three months is $99. That has never happened before where lessons are so affordable to be enrolled in a University. On top of that, you get to download all of my lessons. You get to interact with me and all of the other students in the class. So I tell you, “We are doing this study of this figure and we’re doing this crazy head, here is my version of the figure”, I get to see your version, you can send me your version and I will draw on top of it and give you feedback and ideas to consider and I send it back to you all through what we call video exchange. It’s all new technology – video exchange technology – which allows me to one-on-one critique the work and interact with the students in the class.
Cheats: What building blocks led to you to launching the online school?
BUA: It’s a company called ArtistWorks and they have done 24 Universities in the field of music. DJ Qbert teaches DJing, they got some of the best in the world teaching in their fields. But they’ve never done an art program. Qbert introduced me to them and they asked did I want to do their first art program and I said, “Of course.” I said yes because while I liked teaching at USC, USC was an amazing experience, it was not an affordable experience for everybody. This school is for everybody. At USC, if you had a certain amount of money – then you could take my class; and you have to be at USC. If you didn’t have the money or you were not at USC, what could you do? You couldn’t really study with me – you didn’t have access to me. Not to mention, what if you were in Iceland or the Philippines? You couldn’t study with me. So this really creates an access that no one has ever really had before in my teaching.
For students who enroll in the BUA Online School, what experience should they expect?
They are going to get an interactive experience that is going to be game changing and life changing. Drawing is one of the most meditative and beautiful things ever. If you are an artist, you are going to be able to build your portfolio and improve your skills. If you are a hobbyist and you are taking classes for fun, you are going to find yourself more peaceful, more at one with yourself, and getting deeper into the art of not only drawing but truly seeing. Those things will change your experience with everything, if you are a dancer – it will help you be a better dancer, if you are a writer – it will help you be a better writer because drawing is very intuitive and it is very profound. This experience is a game changer. It’s one of the most game-changing things I have ever done.
You mentioned that you will not only will teach about the fundamentals of art but also about the business aspect of art. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about navigating business with success?
You really have to dial into understanding what needs to be done to make a living. So many people say, “I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that,” but they don’t know the operational system. They just jump into it blindly. And you really need to know this information. I will teach everything from how to build a portfolio, to what is the best way to market yourself, how to protect yourself, how to negotiate a deal, should you get an attorney or agent. What field you want to go into…do you want to go into fine art or maybe education. I know this information because I’m doing the same thing. I can dial into what people really need to know and help them focus on being successful.
How did that knowledge base click for you personally? When did you realize you were dealing with more of the business aspect of art?
Well, I learned the hard way. I have a natural inclination to be a hustler because I’m from New York City (Harlem) so I have a little bit of the hustler mentality, but I’ve been hustled so much. My first go around in both the advertising world and the poster world, I was hustled. So I learned from getting ripped off. Call it what you want, call it the school of hard knocks, but I got taken advantage of. And I didn’t understand what my rights were. I didn’t understand where my rights were and because of that, I made some bad moves. Being an artist is like a game of chess, you move this direction you open yourself up for an attack – you move another direction and you’re being strategic and making a smart business decision that will carry you to the next level.
I haven’t heard you comment very much about your drive and motivation. But your grind is such a theme in your work. Where does your drive come from?
It used to be a part of what I called the fuck you energy. All the haters out there that were telling me I could not do it, “you’re not good enough, you’re not skilled enough, you’re art is too street, it’s too unrefined,” and I was like, “fuck you.” All of that energy manifested itself into me trying harder, persevering, and getting better. When I got older, that fuck you energy started to become more positive energy. It became love energy. Now, I do it because I love it. I fell in love with drawing, painting and teaching. It’s a deep way to express myself.
I have seen a shift when it comes to the acceptance of street art. I’ve seen more street art being sponsored by corporations and even the government. Have you noticed this trend? What do attribute it to?
Street art is becoming more normalized. It’s not as underground now and that’s just the way movements go. Jazz was once underground and then it became more normalized. Hip hop was underground and then it became pop. Graffiti was underground and now it’s becoming more accepted. Eventually there will be something else that is more subversive.
How do you feel about these shifts? Do you relish the underground aspect?
I always love the underground element…I was talking this morning with some friends, when Public Enemy came out it was like the new punk rock and no one had ever heard that before…it was so crazy, so puck rock, so radical, and now that level of explosiveness can only last so long and it either fades out or people say, “That’s the cool sound, I want to do that,” and it becomes a little more scripted. People are like, “Let’s do that same type of sound but let’s do the Vanilla Ice/Milli Vanilli version, and that’s just the way it goes these days. It also takes a tremendous about of money, therefore producers, writers, and record labels hedge their bets. They know if they get a David Guetta or Usher they’re going to get a certain number of downloads and make a certain amount of money. It the same with films – if I get this mega star and this producer, I’m going to make this much money in international sales, I’m going get this much of my investment back. It is all safe bets.
From the perspective of someone observing your career from the outside, I would suggest the foundation of your art comes from two (almost competing) elements: a solid formal education ,from the artists in your family, to LaGuardia High, to the Art Center College of Design, and a genuine education of hip hop culture growing up in NYC. How has each of those elements attributed to who you are as an artist?
They are totally opposite movements, street art and classical art, and the reality is that I love both of them. They are harmonized in my work. The more skill you have the better you will be able to express yourself. If you are a good reader, you are going to be a better writer. If you weight train and do more core work in the gym then you’re going to be a better fighter. You have to train. You have to be well rounded with whatever you do.
It’s like having a good offensive line or else your quarterback is going to get killed.
There you go.
How have you changed as an artist and person since becoming a father?
It’s the best thing ever. My daughter keeps me grounded. I learn from her. She’s so smart, she thinks outside the box. She keeps me young, fresh, and thinking.
Do you see a shift from the hustler mentality to family man in your art?
Bua: Definitely I do, but I don’t know exactly how. Not really in how lines are drawn, but fatherhood affects the way that I work. I’m not doing all-nighters anymore. I’m much more disciplined about getting to work when I need to. I don’t smoke weed. I’m just more tuned in. She gives me that grounding feeling and is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life.
You recently posted a tribute painting to Jason Collins on your Facebook page, what role does current events play in your work?
That is an interesting question. I think current events just reflect universal questions of morality. A lot of times you hear about these horrible tragedies. But Jason Collins is a good example because he came out for gay rights, but that is not much different than women’s rights, or apartheid, or all kinds of oppression. He is just a representative of something that is more universal – which is the idea that we have to overcome the mentality of people who are prejudice and backwards. So when I do a painting about him, I’m not only talking about gay rights, I’m talking about women’s rights, Latino and African American rights, I’m talking about a bigger issue – the overall issue that people are equal.
It is certainly a powerful painting.
It was one of those moments. I normally don’t do stuff like that. My work is usually a little more celebratory about the DJ, the MC, unsung leaders of the movement. Whether it is the legends of hip hop or jazz piano players or dancers, but this resonated with me as very interesting. And looking at him, he has a very interesting face to paint. The painting was very spontaneous.
What advice do you give the young artist you mentor regarding how to maximize their potential?
Do what you love to do. Do not allow any negativity to stop you but at the same time don’t be stupid and think that you are the greatest thing in the world. I tweeted this the other day, once you feel that you’ve arrived as an artist, it’s probably a good idea to starch everything and start all over again. There is a lot of young artist that think they are so dope – they are delusional. Michelangelo was 81 when he said he was just beginning to learn how to draw. How are you dope? How have you arrived?
Do you feel that way about yourself as well?
I’m the biggest student of everybody. I’m always painting with people that are better than me. I’m always looking to learn. How does he do that? How can I be that good? You have to have that attitude because if you don’t – you are fooling yourself. And you don’t want to do that. It’s a dangerous place to be. If you really think that you are that good – that is the time when you have to say, no, something is wrong. You can feel that way for a minute but you have to then say – what’s next. Remember, you are only as good as your next painting. It happened to me – I did The DJ 11 or 12 years ago. Okay – what’s next? Same thing with music, you have a hit record – okay what’s next. You’ve heard it before don’t rest on your lures. It’s a fact. So many people are resting on the lures – look what I did. That mentality will stunt you in every way. You will never get better. The more ego you have the less you will get better.
Sign up for the Bua Art School is available right now at: http://artistworks.com/buaartschool. Thanks to Lisa for making it happen. #WESEEIT Follow the Cheats Movement Blog on Facebook. The most diverse blog in RVA.