Justin Bua

Justin Bua at work in his studio. (Photo: courtesy Justin Bua)

Justin Bua has made the Starbucks Reserve in the Los Feliz neighborhood of Los Angeles the temporary headquarters of his creative conglomerate. The hugely successful artist, who has a knack for commodifying his singular art without compromising its integrity, has lived in this city since his college days at the ArtCenter College of Design some 30 years ago. But, during the pandemic, the 54-year-old packed up his family and moved to a remote location in Texas. The core of his activities, however, still happen in Los Angeles, which is why the few days he is in town are packed with meetings.

Among the many things Bua has on tap is a collectible coffee table book, “Original Influencers.” The eye-catching book that includes a selection of art prints is a collaboration with Sideshow, a manufacturer and distributor of sought-after licensed and original collectible products. This large-format book features almost 100 illustrations of people who have influenced Bua. “Original Influencers” is only available via pre-order, which ends on October 31st and will ship mid-spring 2023. 

“I have Bruce Lee, Little Peep, Martin Luther King, Dr. J., Tom Petty, Jerry Garcia, Jack White, Gun n’ Roses, Rosa Parks, Michael Jordan, Nina Simone, Grandmaster Flash,” Bua rattles off some of the varied iconic figures collected in “Original Influencers.” “It’s a tribute to all the people who have influenced me but have also influenced billions of people.”

Justin Bua, “Stynger Lounge,” 2022. Oil on board, 11in x14in. (Photo: courtesy Justin Bua).

About 50% of the illustrations have been released before, while the rest have been created exclusively for the book. “Original Influencers” is also the artist’s third. His first two: “The Beat of Urban Art – The Art of Justin Bua” (Harper Design, 2007) and “The Legends of Hip Hop” (Harper Design, 2011), had been the subjects of substantial backlash for who he included—and left out of— the books.

“It’s my opinion,” says Bua. He is used to arguments getting sparked around his output, be it books, TV series (his street art competition series, Street Art Throwdown, resulted in death threats and Bua having to hire 24-hour security), or commercial products. “Even who I say has influenced me is criticized,” he says.  

Detractors have never had an impact on Bua’s moves. From his high-volume poster work to apparel collaborations to his Art Attack podcast with co-host Lizy Dastin and his recently released limited-edition statues: “The MC,” “The Artist,” “The B-Boy,” and “The DJ,” Bua forges forward. Based on Bua’s instantly recognizable illustrations that are the cornerstone of his art, these figures serve as a conduit of sorts to his upcoming Buaverse. Buaverse is a metaverse based on Bua’s art that, in keeping with Bua’s trailblazing moves in the art world, is aiming to launch on 11/11. There are 1111 generative Buaverse NFTs (the equivalent of embellished giclées in the 2D art world) that function as key cards to entering this virtual world.

“When you get a Buaverse NFT, it’ll be more like an IOU ( ‘I owe you’),” explains Bua. “You won’t be able to trade it on secondary markets.”

The elaborate Buaverse has four “projects,” loosely based on Bua’s native New York, from which its core characters hail: the DJ is from Vinyl Heights, the MC from The Amptons, the B-Boy from Breakers Island and the graffiti writer from Brushwick. Buaverse has a history and culture; participants can build their own world within its structure.

“It’s like the nuclear holocaust of NFTs right now,” says Bua. “That’s why I’ve held back. It’s never been worst. It’s a soft market. I’m not worried about it. When I came into this space, I knew nothing about it. Now, after meetings with tech and developers, I’m deeply consumed with the world.”

Bua is exceptionally good at handholding the art novice through understanding and appreciating art, particularly his style of urban art, which has its foundation in fine art. He put his exaggerated posters of hip-hop characters in big box stores and made them consumer friendly. The same goes for his accessories, which include anything from laptop cases to customized shoes. He’s just the right person to usher in the metaverse-averse into the space.

“The challenge [with the Buaverse] will be how do you onboard a community of people who are very afraid,” Bua acknowledges. “How will your average person of color or older person be able to even understand how to set up a digital wallet? I had a hard time setting up a wallet and I’m in the space. It’s developed by technocrats and frankly, the end user is the last person they’re thinking about. So what we’re trying to do right now is figure out ways to communicate and make it a technically easy experience.”

To help ease the transition to the metaverse, Bua is creating a short explainer video with two characters from Buaverse who represent the average person, asking basic questions about Web3. In addition, there will be a higher level three-minute animated video.

The Buaverse will live on, but Original Influencers’ won’t be available on demand once the pre-orders have been filled. Says Bua, “My audience is not used to that. They’re an Amazon audience. They want something tomorrow. But, that’s just the way it is. It’s a Sideshow collectible.

Pre-order Original Influencers from Sideshow.