Go Big or Go Home - CJ Hendry
Words: Ash Low, Photography: Joey Vadapalas
Back in June, I met with Australian, hyper-real artist CJ Hendry. Hendry’s pen and pencil hyperreal art is well supported in the New York art scene, and we spoke a couple of months after her 4-day show, Monochrome. Monochrome was wildly successful, with queues wrapping around the block for four hours. Stay tuned for a quick chinwag about her process, mindset and what’s next…
It was a sunny Tuesday out in Greenpoint and I’d scored an interview with a badass Australian artist, who I think is onto something unique: combining the worlds of art and architecture. This comes in the wake of her most recent show, Monochrome, which was a huge success. Admittedly, I was nervous as I approached the studio door. “Here goes nothing!” I thought. I breathed in deeply and proceeded to knock.
Nothing goes unannounced when there’s a dog around as Ace warmly welcomed me, followed by her studio director, Elsa, and CJ herself. The studio was pristine, naturally lit, with one giant trestle table justified to one side of the room. Relaxed as ever with pencils by her side, CJ sat by her workstation ready for an inquest of noob art questions from this architect.
After ten minutes with CJ, it became instantly apparent that I wasn’t chatting to any ordinary pencil pusher. She was a second year architecture drop out, who’d dabbled in finance, and didn’t want to use CAD. CJ expanded on her choice to ditch the conventional road of getting an office job, as an epiphany came through whilst selling luxury goods in retail. “Surely more is destined for me. Fuck it, let’s give this a go.” She retells. From there, she strategically sold her belongings and mapped out a year plan to launch her career as an artist.
Despite her crazy OCD (self diagnosed) CJ isn’t actually a huge fan of planning. Whilst her and her team plan how to execute short and long term goals and ambitions, she’s open to flexibility and doesn’t believe in extensive “5 year” plans. “How the fuck can you plan for everything? Who knows what’s around the corner? You could be having a baby one day or find the love of your life. You can plan how hard you work and how good of a person you are. But you can’t plan life.”
Ash: Burning question… was the name CJ picked for anonymity? Or has that always been you?
CJ: I’ve always been CJ, I guess you could say I rebranded when I was 11 and a half.
Fucking brilliant I thought, I just broke the ice. Now to project my architecturally nitty gritty questions.
Ash: Correct me if I’m wrong, but in Monochrome you were definitely trying to push boundaries and I could see some of that architecture background in there.
CJ: Yes, and I’m glad you say that. With the Trophy Room it wasn’t an experience yet. You still had to walk through a room and look. There was something missing and I couldn’t figure it out and it was really frustrating. So with Monochrome there’s a little bit more to the story. It’s still hyperrealism, but I’m more interested in the bigger picture idea, the experience. It’s not just a 2D picture on the wall anymore, and that’s an important part of my practice. After Monochrome people started saying, “is she just going to be a one hit wonder, can she do it again?”, because with experiential art how many people really nail it? So now I’m just thinking “Fuck yeah I can.” When Monochrome came out and it was super instagrammy, I was a bit put off by it, so I just stopped posting on social media. Instagram is such a noisy space. I’m not about working the algorithm or getting followers or likes. I’m going to use instagram when I’m goddamn ready.
Ash: Seeing as you are producing your own shows, where do you sit in this gallery continuum?
CJ: At present I’m not currently actively seeking representation. However, if the right gallery was to approach us then we would be open to it. I like having control and I’m a control freak Plus my team is very strong with Elsa and Lewis. For a show I’ll expand my team if needed, and when it’s all in-house a buyer can experience things exclusively with us.
And at that exact point and time, her eyes lit up as she started sharing some secrets on her upcoming show. Some words and phrases she threw around were: a giant science experiment, collaborative, sand, appreciate the mindfuck, WHAT? “It’s going to be insane.” She said. (Add wild hand gestures).
Ash: What is your take on accessibility of your art, and how does it relate to ownership?
CJ: Yes I am interested on accessibility, but I also think that my art should be hard to get. My work is extremely labour intensive and once a show is over, it’s over; no matter who you are. This is a way that I can protect my buyers. In addition, I will never release prints of my work. I’ll release prints of my show with my work in it, but never of the work. I wanted Monochrome to be a moment in time, a show only open for 4 days. So sorry if you didn’t make it. I don’t want my works to tour around the country like a bloody roadshow. In saying that, this is still a business, I still need something tangible that I can sell, and to also fund and grow my practice. So it’s a bit of a catch 22. But I still think that artists should be doing more. They should be fucking doing better than just slapping some art on a wall that’s slightly controversial.
Ash: (*sing it sister*, I thought). So I hear you’re a mad workaholic.
CJ: Haha yes I probably draw 15 hours a day. When Elsa first started she said, “CJ, what you do is insane”. I’ve never had an office job so I don’t know what office hours are. .For me it’s not work/life balance; it’s work/life harmony. My close friends know what I’m like, and right now I’m on track to do something, hanging out and living a normal life is for later.
Ash: Have there been any real setbacks or issues?
CJ: There’s always fires to be put out and we’re constantly managing problems, but people don’t need to know about that. I’m here to entertain and make great art. At the end of the day I make things that people don’t need, which is why I think as an artist you should always be striving to do better.
Ash: Have you any advice for budding artists?
CJ: I’m not in a position to give advice, as what you say to one person may not work for someone else. Personally, I’m a fairly confident person and don’t give too many fucks. So many people think that just because they’ve been working fucking hard, they’re entitled to things, but nothing in life comes easy, nothing happens by accident.
Ash: Kanye, Pharell, celebrities, care to expand?
CJ: I’ve met both of them, celebrities whilst I appreciate them, I have more non-celebrity buyers. They’re the ones who come back and support every show. They support my work and my story. They are the reason I come back every year.
I looked at my watch, 11:15 (now I’m really late for work).
CJ is having a show called Rorscarch opening on April 9. Watch the space…