Iconic Painter Justin Bua's Portraits Of His Most Influential Rappers
Justin Bua is a hip-hop painter; you may have seen the print of his painting "The DJ" (see below), at Target, of all places. It's been out for over a decade, and has been selling ridiculous amounts of copies for years.
He's done portraits of everyone from Nas to Kool Herc to Queen Latifah. How to recognize a Bua? His characters' arms tend to be stretched like they're made of Silly Putty, as you can see in the portraits collected in his new book, The Legends of Hip Hop. He taps into, and then magnifies, the essence of each artist: "The DJ's" fingers are elegantly elongated, b-boy Ken Swift's Adidas-clad foot seems to belong to a giant, and Jay Z slouches into his throne atop the Brooklyn Bridge.
We met up with him at Silver Lake "wellness bar" Naturewell, where he told us about his evolution. He wasn't always into specific portraits; with works like "The DJ" he intended to create everyman portrayals. "Likeness is great, but it's secondary. I want to capture what's beneath the surface. That's dangerous."
The 43-year-old New York native -- who moved here twenty years ago to attend Pasadena's Art Center College of Design -- identifies with John Singer Sargent's quote: "Every time I paint a portrait, I lose a friend." That's why he's quick to point out that he exaggerates everything; Snoop's head does not actually look like a Doberman's, for example, as it does in his work, below. "People have fragile egos. They think they're Denzel Washington."
Justin Bua "The DJ"
Could he be talking about Big Daddy Kane's pencil eraser fade? Or how he portrays A Tribe Called Quest as a four-headed beast? He won't name names, but says he's been asked to tweak his portraits.
"This is the Bua vision, ladies and gents," he says with a laugh. "This is completely subjective, what I believe you look like."
Out today on HarperCollins Legends features not only paintings of his top 50 most influential hip hop figures, but also his stories on how they affected him growing up. Below are some of our favorites.