CJ Hendry (b. 1989, Durban, South Africa) grew up in Brisbane, Australia, and currently lives and works in New York City. Hendry is a completely self-taught hyperrealistic artist, known for her breathtaking and massive ink drawings of subjects ranging from high-end fashion items to streetwear, sporting goods, Playstation video-game controllers, and the list goes on and on.
Hendry, who was initially discovered through Instagram, now boasts over 266,000 followers and most often organizes the exhibitions at her own personal expense. Her work has been exhibited internationally, having done solo-shows in New York and Australia, with another one approaching this March in Hong Kong.
Her quirky and outspoken character kept us on the phone for over an hour, laughing and swearing, covering a variety of topics. But her fun and fearless attitude shouldn’t be mistaken for anything less than what she is—a truly hardworking, dedicated and insanely talented artist who is fulfilling her dreams by doing what she loves most—making art.
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What are three attributes to describe yourself?
Colorful, animated, but also a streak of bipolar. I don’t know if bipolar is the right word, maybe it’s like introvert/ extrovert, because I do believe that down in my core I’m an introvert, but I play the role of an extrovert very well, so yeah I don’t know, I think I’m warm and colorful, but also very clinical and I could be…I don’t know, there’s too many words—maybe I’m slightly cruel sometimes without meaning to be, like some Devil Wears Prada action on the side. I just feel like I can change according to what’s going on around me.
If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would you choose?
So this is going to sound lame and not the answer that probs people want to hear, but my sister or my boyfriend hands down. My sister, together were the ultimate duo, we’re awful together because we’re so mean, we are like Mean Girls 101, and I feel like she just gets it, she’s the only other person in the world who just gets it and we’re both sassy and I just adore her—and my boyfriend, we could chat 24/7 if we were given the opportunity, like he has to go and do his job and I have to do mine, but if I could just hang out with them all day I would be very very happy.
Advice to your 15 year-old self?
I just wouldn’t have been so worried about expectations and what people expect you to do or trying to be cool and that kind of thing. I think I have an element of trying to be cool, like late high school and I think I’m just so uncool and maybe that’s a part of the reason I don’t fully feel like I fit into New York, because I feel like everyone is cool, everyone knows what’s going on, everyone’s got all these friends, I don’t have many mates and I don’t make too much of an effort to try to have dinner with the right person because this is what I need out of them. I think so many people kind of jump into that cool category and it feels uncomfortable now in my late 20s because I’m just not cool and I’m so comfortable with that and I hate that word cool. It’s so nice to just be who you are and be a little quirky and a little bit unusual and just roll with it.
Why did you choose to be an artist, if it was a choice, or did it just happen naturally?
I didn’t choose this, it was like it chose me! I was always very good at drawing hyper-realism, but I also am very aware that people are always wowed by skill in art, so I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to leverage off the skill factor. I have always been gifted in that regard, but didn’t quite understand how artists were artists, because I have a very logical mind and I understand that bills are bills, someone’s got to pay for that, someone’s got to pay for rent, oh and snacks, so those are like my three most important things in life and I’m like well how do you do that and create art? So it’s like a fine balance of being commercial to a sense where it has to be sold and then also staying true it, anyway, so I didn’t understand how that worked and I kind of stumbled into my fascination with business and I started to really understand business and then my skill level and it was just a perfect combination of I think timing, a bit of luck, you know a whole lot of things.
Did you study art in school?
No, I didn’t. I’m learning it, but I don’t want to get too involved because it’s a bit much for my little brain.
So are you self-taught?
Yes, completely self-taught. I just kind of bumble around. I mean everybody studied art in high school, you know, art as a subject and english and math and science, so art was a subject and I was good at it, I could always draw really well.
Can you talk about technique?
So my technique is completely made up. It’s scribbling, like I don’t know if you could hear this in the background, can you hear that? It’s just like layers upon layers of scribbles. The first layer is relatively messy, like if you looked at this, I might just text you a photo like first layer and you’re like oh gosh, and then it becomes very refined over two or three layer build ups and I use pen. So most people look at it and it looks like graphite or it looks like pencil because it’s so smooth and even, but I’ve become so comfortable with a pen. I can do it with my eyes closed now. It’s just completely self-taught. I’m sure people have scribbled in the past so I’m not going to say I’m the first person to do it at all, but it just felt very natural to me.
I did study architecture straight out of high school for a couple of years. I wasn’t too good at it, but the pens, I did pick up these Japanese fine liner pigment ink black pens when I was studying architecture and I’ve kind of used them ever since, so I guess I found the pens I like to use back then.
Then after that I went to go and study accounting and finance, so maybe that’s where my logical, business brain kind of kicked in. Yeah and then I didn’t feel comfortable doing either, so it’s probably a great combination of both that I’m doing this. Everything just seems made up and kind of on the fly.
Are there certain artists, styles or movements you’ve drawn inspiration from?
So in terms of artists that draw in a hyper-realistic and black and white way, obviously like the baddest bitch of all of them is Robert Longo, his scale I think beyond anything. I’ve actually seen his work up close and it’s not that great, I do know he has a studio so he probably didn’t do it, but I wasn’t blown away by the skill, but the scale is quite something and I think it’s really something to be amazed by.
There’s another British guy, not as well known, I think he recently passed away—Jonathan Delafield Cook—very eerie, elegant, black and white, I think it’s charcoal, but I could be lying, but just very symmetrical, very simple, very kind of what I do, but maybe with more natural objects like it might be animals or a bird’s nest or a flower, but just in a very elegant way. I just really love his work.
But now I’m starting to get inspired by artist technique, not even artists, brand, people, whatever it is, but if it’s art, artists that don’t draw in a hyper-realistic way, but like performance artists, and artists who do epic scale and color and beautiful, perfect lines and geometry, so I don’t know, I’m kind of moving away from this…I’m not saying I don’t love hyper-realism, but I fully could see myself doing 360s along the way and trying new things because I am so fascinated by the way in which artists engage with the viewer. I think for me, that’s becoming more and more important, like before I said galleries for me don’t really do it, you know they just say you should like this piece and then everyone is like omg it’s amazing.
Some of the small galleries, they’re like yeah this is a great artist because of…and then they give you a full thesis to read, but I don’t feel anything when I look at that and I can’t interact with it and I can’t do more than just look at it and you tell me what I should think. So, I’m becoming more interested in artists that have these extraordinary public installations or light or I don’t know I can’t explain it, but there’s so many artists that do it so well, but I think if the viewer can interact with it and share it with their friends, not that I’m saying it’s about the share-ability, but if they can see it and understand it and capture it in the way they like to, for me that’s really exciting. Maybe it’s just simple art that I like the most, I don’t know. Art without a thesis is probably like my vibes.
If you weren’t an artist, what else would you be?
That’s a good one. No. I would probably be in finance to be perfectly honest, that’s not what I should say, but I really do enjoy that world and I read a lot of finance books and it just fascinates me. The business world fascinates me and I guess the business of art is now starting to fascinate me, even more so. Yeah, I’d probably be in finance, like private-wealth or something like that.
Is there a specific message you like your viewers to take away from your work or do you prefer they have their own?
I think what is great about art is everyone’s takeaway will be different. People are at different stages in their lives, people are different ages, different races, different sexes, whatever it is, everyone’s got something different that they’re going through and I think everyone is going to interpret art differently, so I think the moment you tell people to feel a certain thing or act a certain way when they look at your art, that’s not quite what I’m wanting to do. I just want people to be where they’re at, think what they think.
I feel like everyone’s going to takeaway something. People are going to hate it. Some people are going to love it. Some people are going to feel indifferent and that’s just the way it should be, because that’s art, you know I’m not a politician. I’m just making stuff that I like and it’s coming from the most genuine place. I’m not out there trying to do a movement or trying to make people feel a certain way. I’m just doing me all the time. It couldn’t come from a more clear and genuine place.
How would you describe the word “ART”, What does it means to you?
If you were to ask most people what art is, I think they would say it’s probably expensive, they would say the word gallery, they would say the word maybe New York and a whole lot of things that the art world has become, but art should be everywhere from any age and it doesn’t have to be gallery worthy to be art. I think kids are making art in school, you make art I have no doubt. I think art should be anything you create, it doesn’t need to be drawing, it doesn’t need to be painting, it can be anything creative. People can just create art in their brain, they can just see the way something is styled or they might just see a street corner and they might see that, like the composition of colors is art, you know what I mean? Art comes in every format and I think it’s become so put into this category of gallery and money and all the auction prices that kind of thing and that’s so important, but it’s just like gosh some people just want to make shit, you know.
Do you have any quotes from previous artists which are important for you? A few words of wisdom that you hold onto or remember?
I saw it on a tombstone. I think Banksy did this, he’s just like the funniest of all of them. It was by one of the main dudes—Picasso: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.”
I just think no art is original, everything is going to be an interpretation of the next thing, but that’s what is so great about it. Maybe the show that is coming up for me in March is a combination of ten different artists that I’ve seen or that I love and I’ve kind of whirled into one.
Can you tell us more about this show?
Let me explain it to you in a quick hot minute. I’m doing a show in Hong Kong in March and it’s coming up relatively quickly and it’s a show of small colored works. I’m doing color for the first time which is exciting because I want a challenge. I got an opportunity to show with Christian Louboutin, the shoe brand with the red soles. I’m not even drawing their product, I’m actually drawing super weirdly abstract stuff. I’m drawing paint, that makes no sense, but I’m drawing paint and I’m doing these small works and it’s going to be very interactive which is a big part of what I want to do moving forward.
Louboutin has been the most extraordinary company to work with, they have left it completely in my hands which is just crazy and coming on board and funding this experience and this show which is really exciting. I’ve been wanting to do more experiential things for a long time where the viewer can interact and have fun and do whatever it is they’re going to do, so that’s what is happening in March. I’m really excited for it.
I remember reading that Kanye West bought your work. Can you talk about that?
That was so long ago oh my gosh. That was crazy, somehow that happened. I’m super grateful for that. I’m just a big fan girl of the Yeezy for a whole lot of reasons, he’s just a bad bitch and I love that. I think he just says what he wants and that’s so refreshing. Everyone says and does the right thing and it kind of frustrates me a little bit and especially in the art world and you know you kind of got to do the right thing, say the right thing, I’m just like look that’s a lot for one person to handle. Yeah so that kind of happened, I can’t remember how it happened or what led to it, but he has one of my pieces which is awesome. Is it hanging in his house? I’m not sure. Is it in storage? Most likely. But, he has one and that’s exciting.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I think this is something that I always need to add because my mum always gets really angry with me when she listens to or reads something. She always says that I come off so blasé and casual about it, but at the end of the day I do work so hard at creating what I do and I put every single bit of my 24/7 energy into this, but I guess part of me has this kind of off the cup attitude because I do get frustrated with these kind of people expecting it done a certain way so I kind of almost go out of my way to just be chilled about it, which I kind of have a chilled attitude, but at the end of the day I’m not really, like I’m so passionate about this. For example, every single dollar I make from my art, I don’t pay myself a wage, I put it back into the business, back into growing and growth and building whatever it is that’s happening and I think that shows how serious I am about it. I’ll say casual things like oh I don’t go to shows and galleries…I read a lot about it, but I find it is just a lot of effort to have to go look at it and you know I’m just like fuck it and so the visual image just gives me so much, maybe that’s also leading towards me just really enjoying consuming art online, which a lot of people are doing as well, so yes I kind of give this super casual don’t care attitude, but I really do care, but I get frustrated that people expect me to say the right thing, maybe that’s what I’m trying to say.
Interview by Art of Choice ©