Justin Bua on the connection between hip-hop and MMA: "They are both irreverent cultures"
For Justin Bua, painting is about documenting moments in time that reflect an era. Hailing from New York, Bua's work has examined the urban themes of hip-hop, jazz, break dancing, and the countless threads that continue to sew the fabric of the entire culture. Since the early '90s, Bua has also passionately followed mixed martial arts fighting. Going as far as pretending to be a journalist to interview the UFC founding creator and producer, Art Davie, Bua's love for fighting is now blending with his passion for art. Catching up with the artist in preview of his live-painting/interviewing at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom with Phife Dawg of A Tribe Called Quest and DJ Z-Trip, we spoke about how fighting and painting are essentially the same thing, and how capturing the moment is more than just a snapshot in time.
Last year, we spoke with Bua about his portrait paintings and about documenting the culture when he came to Denver to lecture before the Nas appearance at Cervantes. This year, though, is different. Before his show at Cervantes, he is doing an event at Cold Crush -- a once-per-year occurrence -- where people can purchase his art at the most affordable price it will ever be.
"Once a year -- my work can be pricey, some go for $80,000 or $20,000 -- so once a year I do Art for the People. The common man is my fan, and I consider myself an artist for the people, by the people, and of the people," Bua says. "My main consumer is someone who doesn't make a lot of income; The working class hero. Once a year I like to do something where people can afford my canvasses. It's my work made affordable. When I say affordable...it's considerably less." Prices for the canvasses start at $50 and go up to $2,500.
For art of this caliber, that's a steal, but Bua chooses not to concern himself with that side of the business. "My pieces are my pieces. Value of art is controlled by auction, and I'm not in auction. If you like my work, great, but if you don't, keep moving. My work is not a Banksy, or a [Willem de Kooning.] I live in my world. I stopped caring about that a long time ago."
Not caring about that has allowed him to stay focused on his personal interests, rather than attempting to create something simply so it will sell. In doing that, he has developed an often mocked style, but an original Bua always stands out from the rest.
However successful his work has been in the field of urban culture, Bua has really delved into the world of UFC by documenting it the way he did with hip-hop. Having been a fan since it started, and a part-time practitioner himself, he figured the best way for him to get involved is through the canvas. "When I see someone go out there to fight, they lose because they defeat themselves," he says. "The other person is just a body. It's what their mistakes are. When you approach a canvas that's blank, if the painting turns out bad, it falls on you. It's not a team sport. It's you and yourself naked, alone. I feel like that is how a painter feels when he stands naked and alone in front of his canvas."