Monday, January 14, 2013

PORTRAIT OF A PAINTER: JUSTIN BUA

Justin Bua

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.

Studio

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.

Justin and Ruby

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.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

INSIDE LOOK: BEHIND THE COVER

Melissa

MELISSA SCHWARTZ is a prolific photographer. “I shoot A LOT,” she says. “In my opinion, that is the best way to get a really special shot. Most amazing shots are not planned, they are a moment that happens when the model forgets they are modeling.” Well, we definitely wound up with that “amazing shot” on the cover of Laika’s Premier Issue. Assisted by her right-hand man and fellow photographer Donovan Jenkins, Melissa captured a compelling portrait of 19-year-old college student Brandilyn Tebo. All three are Los Angeles-based vegans, who are active in the animal rights community. Melissa and Donovan produce the vGirls|vGuys multi-media project, and Brandilyn runs Veg Club at Occidental College, where she just declared herself as a Biology major. Here, they take us through the day of the cover shoot, and share their thoughts on a variety of topics…

Melissa, tell us about your technique.
I use a Nikon D3 camera, but I think technology is so good these days, one can get great shots with many kinds of cameras… A great shot is all about lighting and knowing your camera well enough to change things quickly. I use Alien Bees lights which are super affordable and portable. I like shooting in the studio for certain kinds of things, but I also like shooting on location. It really comes down to what the client wants.

And your working relationship with Donovan?
We work very well together. We consult with each other on set-ups. We have been good friends for years and years, and actually went vegan together when we met. He is working on his own portfolio now so I will be assisting for him in the future also.

Donovan, what led you to photography?
I grew up in a small town in Montana. After high school I joined the Army to be an infantry paratrooper and served two tours in Iraq. When I returned home to Montana in 2005, I was depressed and suffering from PTSD, so I started studying philosophy (ethics) and running a lot because I found those things helped me understand and deal with a lot of my troubling experiences from the war. Several months later I met Melissa and decided to move to Los Angeles. She is the one who introduced me to veganism, helped me give up all animal products, and she let me work with her in her photography studio as I finished going to school at UCLA. Eventually, after failing to find a job with my philosophy degree, I realized that I was much happier working as a photographer anyway. So, now I’m assisting Melissa with her work at Schwartzstudios, working with her on the vGirls|vGuys project, and working on my own photography business.

 

Melissa in the Studio

You guys shot at two different locations for the Laika cover shoot—both of them beautiful.
Melissa: Scouting is really important because you can’t just rely on a scene to look good without understanding how it looks at a certain time of day. We found two we liked before the shoot and we returned to both of them. However, the second location kind of caught us off guard. We had found what we thought was an abandoned truck to shoot with, but when we got there with Brandilyn it was gone! So we had to make do. But it was lucky that the other location we had already shot at was perfect. There was a little fog in the morning that diffused the light and made the location even better than the first time we saw it.
Donovan: Probably some of the most inspiring things for me are the experiences I have while out running in the mountains or riding my bike through the city. I found one of the locations for the Laika cover shoot one morning when I was out on a run.

Tell us about the day of the shoot.
Melissa: We started really early, about 5:30 or 6am and I think we ended close to 3pm. I definitely feel like we had a fun experience and all got to know each other better. I am really glad I got to meet Brandilyn, she is independently organizing a number of important endeavors for the movement.
Brandilyn: I think a lot of vegans tend to have that commonality and sense of community with one another- it has been a platform for many of my most wonderful friendships. We even went out to eat at a vegan restaurant after the shoot. It was connected to a grocery store called “Follow Your Heart.” It was around Halloween so we all shared cinnamon pumpkin pancakes and we’ve seen each other since the shoot at other vegan outings! They are way awesome people.

Brandilyn, what does your family think of your modeling career?
My mom was a model, so she has very mixed emotions about it. She knows what a great opportunity it could be for me, but she also knows that the industry is grueling and often terrible for self-esteem. None of my family wants me to be seen treated as a commodity or objectified in any way-they want me to retain my identity! Which is why it is awesome when I get to do things like this shoot, which support causes in which I believe. But I am a full time student with dreams far beyond the modeling world and no matter what, those come first.

 

Brandilyn

Donovan, with you being athletic, are people ever surprised to learn you’re vegan?
Less so today than they were several years ago. There are so many world class athletes promoting veganism now. Just last month I ran the Chimera 100-mile trail race in Southern California, and the race organizers provided both vegan and non-vegan food at all the aid stations along the course. It was awesome to see so many people choosing to eat the vegan meals at the race.

Athletes put more stress on their bodies and generally require more protein than the average person to stay healthy and strong. If you can’t get adequate protein from plants, I don’t know how there are so many vegans competing at the highest level in almost every sport. I don’t know how I could have the strength to run ultramarathons and lift weights. I rarely use protein supplements, but the other day I was reading through the reviews for Vega protein powder online and thought it was a great testament to plant proteins when athletes who identified themselves as meat eaters claimed over and over again that plant based proteins were better quality and gave them better results than any whey or other non-vegan protein. You don’t need meat!

Melissa, why are you an animal rights activist?
Because I can’t not be. I live in a world that is beyond unfair to animals. There is so much pain and suffering that humans are responsible for, and so many of us are unwittingly supporting animal abuse because we don’t even realize how our choices effect the animals. So now that I understand the situation I feel like I have no choice but to try to tell other people what I have learned.

Do you feel optimistic about a better future for the animals?
I absolutely do, and I think we will see it happen in our lifetimes. Though I think the ethical reasons are all that we should need, it will probably not happen out of purely ethical reasons; I am sure environmental, health and economic reasons will play a huge role in this change. Humanity cannot afford not to change. Period.

 

Learn more about Melissa Schwartz’s photography and activism at :
Schwartzstudios
vGirls|vGuys
…and read more about Brandilyn Tebo on page 62 of the Premier Issue.
Photo of Melissa and Donovan courtesy of Tony Radakovich
Photo of Brandilyn Tebo courtesy of Melissa Schwartz

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

GET TO KNOW: ELI ESCOBAR

Eli Escobar

ELI ESCOBAR is not only one of the most talented and in-demand DJs around, but he is also one of the nicest people you could ever meet. He’s DJ’d around the world for over 10 years and is one of the founders of the Tiki Disco party at Roberta’s in Bushwick. In 2012, he released “Work It,” and remixed for people like Lana Del Rey, Holy Ghost! and Armand Van Helden. We were lucky enough to have him DJ at our Launch Party. Let’s get to know him a little better…

Has the NYC dynamic been a big influence on your sound over the years?
I’ve been here my whole life. My first couple of years in the Bronx and from then on in Manhattan. Surely, the cultural and artistic diversity of the city in the 80’s had a huge impact on me. Since things have tamed down a bit— maybe not so much. But, it’s still my city and seems to define me to the core. There’s always so much going on here, and no shortage of good DJs playing great music. So being a DJ and producer who always dabbled in a bit of everything, I’m not sure it would have been as easy in another city. When I go to other places to DJ, a lot of the people who come out tend to express frustration with the lack of resources or activity in their home towns. I think it’s safe to say that is never an issue here and it keeps you going and influences you along the way.

Your go-tos guaranteed to make people lose their minds on the dance floor?
Mousse T.’s “Horny” (Radio Slave and Thomas Gandey Just 17 Mix) never fails. If it’s an older crowd I always like to play Janet’s “The Pleasure Principle”. The mix from the 12 inch.

What are you currently listening to? What’s inspiring you these days in general whether in music, art, style?
I listen to Eric B and Rakim’s 4 albums non-stop. But that’s old. I like Bat For Lashes so much you’d think I was a 16 year old girl. As far as style, I’m still dressing the way I did in high school, so I might need to find some new inspiration on the fashion tip.

How long have you been vegan and what led to the change?
One year. I was vegetarian for a good 10 years, then went back to eating everything. Over the last few years, I started really loving to cook and in the process, becoming very aware of how the food industry works. I like to believe that what keeps most people from changing their diets is just ignorance and a total disconnect between what they’re eating and where it comes from. I would hope most people would make the decision to avoid meat and dairy once they were made aware of factory farming and how evil it is. For me, it was a very easy decision and never a struggle at all. Except in airports! I’ve learned to always have a huge ziplock bag in my back pack with nuts and fruit in it otherwise I would die.

Fave vegan spots in NYC and elsewhere on your travels?
I live across the street from the Dosa man who has a food cart at Washington Square South and I eat his food probably twice a week. It’s so good. I also love the restaurant Kajitsu in the East Village. Everyone (vegan or not) should go there and have the extended tasting menu, it’s lifechanging! Honestly though, I think it’s best to cook at home as much as possible if you are choosing to live on a plant based diet.

What’s next for you?
I have a new EP coming out next month that I did with my friend Nomi from Jessica 6 who is the best singer I’ve ever met and a full length album right after that. And more DJing of course!

Find Eli Escobar on:
SoundCloud
Facebook
Twitter

 

Eli Escobar photo courtesy of Kenny Rodriguez