JUSTIN BUA is a celebrated artist, with a best-selling collection of fine-art posters and a loyal, international fan base (over 27,000 likes on his Facebook page at last count!). His dynamic, intricate paintings have been displayed in solo shows at fine art institutions like LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art ), and are in the private collections of the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Eva Longoria and Christina Ricci. “Bua’s stylish renderings jump right at you, hit you between the eyes with their energy,” is how author Elmore Leonard once described his work. Justin’s illustrated books— “The Beat of Urban Art”- a visual journey through Justin’s youth in New York; and “The Legends of Hip Hop” – an homage to some of the biggest names in hip hop— are already considered classics. “Any opportunity I have, I draw,” says Justin. Indeed, if you follow him on Instagram, you are treated to a stream of new artwork- uploaded daily, sometimes multiple times a day. His nurturing rapport with his artistic young fans is inspiring. Having once been a professor at University of Southern California for 12 years, his upcoming art venture is a fitting return to his roots. Here, he gives us an exclusive glimpse and talks about his busy life.
Tell us about BUA University.
I have an online University that I’m going to be doing. I am pretty excited about that! I will be teaching 150 classes online. It’s going to be an amazing situation where I could kind of just go off… more than teaching, it’s a little bit more “edutainment”- fun and fantastic. You can download classes whenever, and it’s for all ages and levels. It’s interactive- if you do work that you want to show me, you shoot it off, I download it and provide a critique. The site will go live this summer.
Wow, sounds incredible! Talk about your art process a bit.
I work in a really old-school kind of way: I work the drawing up with thumbnails, and then I move to finished line drawing, then move to value keys, and then I move to color keys. Value keys tell me what my darkest dark and my lightest light is. Color keys which tells me the temperature, the time of day- is it sunny? is it overcast? is it sunset? I just keep working like that until I figure it out. It’s a very laborious kind of process. But I have to do it, since most of the time I’m not just doing portraits, I’m usually doing a whole scene, I’m creating an entire world and a place. It can take anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks, depending on the project.
And your heroes?
I have contemporary heroes like Ralph Steadman. And then I love Rembrandt. Rembrandt is one of my all-time favorites. Daumier is another one. George Bellows. I love Picasso, because he was such a crazy artist, and you really feel the love and spirit of what he does. I love a lot of graffiti writers—a tremendous art form. Saber is really great, a good friend of mine.
Your food choices must play a role in your hectic schedule. What does veganism mean to you?
I grew up on all the acronyms you could think of- McD, KFC, MSG. As I started to investigate and read Eric Schlosser’s “Fast Food Nation,” or John Robbins’ “Diet for a New America” or Howard Lyman’s ‘Mad Cowboy,” I started to feel like- wow, I was really kind of bamboozled! I felt like there was a certain hoax and poisonous lie that was permeating the reality that I was living. I almost felt angry, I thought, “this is insane.” I thought, “I’m angry, I’m not going to take it anymore. I’m going to DO something proactive”- which is really what veganism is. So- I’m not going to buy your steroid-antibiotic-poisonous-slaughtered-meat. But I’m rather going to support my local farmer, who is making a decent wage, who is growing food that is not harming the environment, not killing animals and it’s holistically better.
A friend of mine is an ex-Arizona State linebacker. I work out hard- I’ll turn up the volume, work out for two hours… functional strength, Crossfit, circuit training. And he’s like, “I’ve never meant anybody like you, I thought all vegans were kind of like “new age, woo woo, pretentious, privileged people.” Because a lot of people have that perception.
So some may be surprised by the connection between veganism and a counter-cultural art form like hip hop. Can you explain?
The real vegan story comes from the same place that the real hip hop story comes from, which is- “I’m going to look into what’s going on with the system, I’m going to evaluate it, I’m going to investigate it, and then I’m going to do something about it. And change it.” If you really look back at people like Afrika Bambaataa- he was the guy who was promoting veganism and vegetarianism, and if you ate pork, you would get beat down. Before I was even learning about it, kids like my friend Mr. Wiggles from the Rock Steady Crew, was already hip to veganism because of Bambaataa.
Real hip hop is counter-cultural, it’s always been a counter-cultural movement- like jazz. It started from the streets, it started as a means to communicate what was going on in New York City. It was street poetry about some of the social injustices of the world. It was about speaking what was really on your mind, because it came from a true place. And veganism in a lot of ways is: we’re not going to buy into what you are trying to sell us. We’re going to talk about it. We’re going to actually really believe in something that’s real.
You and your partner—fellow artist, vegan and author Ruby Roth—have a garden at your home in LA. You also helped build a farm in Hawaii?
Noniland is the farm that I helped build in Kaui. Because of my green thumb, I taught [health guru] David Wolfe how to farm it. He was a bit naïve about how to plant trees—cacao trees in particular, because they need a lot of shade. He thought they needed to be in direct sunlight. His lack of knowledge about tree planting was so ironic, because he’s a genius botanist and super food guru but when it comes to gardening he’s a bit of a grass-assin nincompoop. However after a few days with me, he got on track!
Clearly, you and David are good friends. You even created a drink mix together?
Yes, it’s called “Immortal Machine,” and it has some of the best super foods ever like Cacao, Hemp, Lucuma, Maca and Ashwaganda. It tastes like Nestle Quick, but it’s all raw vegan and organic—might be the best drink mix ever!
You are not only a dietary vegan, but an ethical one as well. What is your view on fur- the sale of which was recently banned in West Hollywood?
Beautiful animals are tortured and murdered for their skin. So sad. If anyone in their right mind saw how they get fur, they wouldn’t wear fur. Its an evil industry.
Read our in-depth feature, “Eat, Paint, Love,” on Justin and Ruby in our Premier Issue page 37 (written by Stacy Gueraseva)
And to get the latest news on BUA University, follow Justin on Instagram.
Photographs of Justin Bua, Ruby Roth and their studio by Colin Hornett, exclusively for Laika Magazine.