"Kanye West smiled and said: 'Hi CJ, we have been looking forward to meeting you'."
An interview with CJ Hendry
CJ Hendry was discovered through her Instagram account by The Cool Hunter, and immediately her work was picked up by major players for commission. Armed with only paper and pen, she creates magnificent, photorealistic black-and-white images in large format, and her subjects are haute, high-end fashion objects such as a Hermes scarf or a Louis Vuitton horse head, however inanimate objects including skulls and guns aren't excluded. She recently made waves in her home country of Australia by presenting Kanye West with a bespoke piece called 'Kash Kurrency' – the rapper's face on a crumpled up $100 note.
Spending sometimes more than 200 hours painstakingly creating the final piece – using only black UniPin pens – the talented 26-year-old, who dropped out of university and now charges Dhs16,000 + per picture, somehow finds the time to sit down with Buro 24/7 and tell us more:
How did the meeting with Kanye West come about?
Honestly it was all Bill my manager from The Cool Hunter. Somehow he performed the impossible and after a few emails back and forth to Kanye's management they agreed for the meeting. I literally squealed when I found out the amazing news.
How did you feel presenting the art to him?
I was completely a nervous wreck! Normally I have it together but I definitely had the jitters. This is no ordinary person. He has been such an incredible inspiration for me for many years so to finally get the opportunity to present my work to him was like a dream. As I waked into the room it was unusual to see him so calm with the rest of his team. He greeted me with a huge friendly smile and said "Hi CJ, we have been looking forward to meeting you." The first thing I did was say "no handshake, bring it in for a hug." It was certainly not what I expected, he was quietly spoken, very friendly and asked lots of questions. I explained a little about what I did and how he has been such a special part of my life. He apparently used to use paper and ink too, wouldn't it be great to see some of Kanye's drawings?! I was shaking the whole time and was bumbling over all my words. Was there for about 5 minutes and left. Unfortunately I was not able to take any photos backstage which was disappointing but all in all I have met my idol and it was incredible.
What does he plan to do with the drawing?
No idea, I never asked. The ideal result would be for it to hang in him new home but hey – he has lots of residences all over the world so I have no idea where it's going to end up.
How did they come up with the concept for the drawing?
It was actually my concept. I was still drawing off my previous series of crumpled bags so decided to crumple a $100 bill and Photoshop his name in the middle. The title is called 'Kash Kurrency'. I never thought he would actually ever see it let alone own it but somehow it all come through. Seriously, I can't even deal!
Have you always loved drawing pieces of luxury fashion? When did it start and how long have you been drawing in present form?
Yes luxury has always been a part of my identity; it is more than an obsession as I am completely entranced by its captivating allure. It started at the age of 16 when I started to buy products I could not afford and over the last 10 years things haven't changed. It's a way for me to mask my own insecurities and personal afflictions, and my stringent mind-set needs fuelling. In terms of drawing, my sketches have always been of an object, whether they were of flowers/shoes/perfume bottles I just love the simplicity of a singular piece for the viewer to focus their complete attention.
You've clearly got great taste; Ferragamo pumps and Hermes bags! How do you pick your brands?
Ha ha ha, thank you. I don't believe it comes down to the brand per se, for me it is about choosing a piece that is in line with my aesthetic. It doesn't even have to be a brand, sometimes it may be a stunning antique piece which has a rich character.
Have any of the designers whose pieces you've drawn ever got in contact – or has anyone approached you imploring you to draw pieces from their collections or archives?
Gosh wouldn't that be nice. No designers or curators have ever approached me to do this and to be honest that has never been the overall plan. It's just been about producing very clean works of art, which make sense to me. If these opportunities did arise it would be really fun to collaborate but I am not too fussed either way.
What other iconic pieces or brands would you love to draw?
There are so many stunning brands to explore and I am sure over time my aesthetic will develop and I may be interested in other pieces that may not interest me at this point it time. I just draw what feels right at that particular point it time... I don't generally plan what I want to draw too far in advance.
Do you work to commission or are you free style?
There have been a few commissions in the past however after 'The Art Hunter' exhibition I am focusing on my free style, which is always really exciting.
How long does a picture take you?
It certainly depends on the size of each piece but they can vary from 100-200 hours each.
Which drawings are you most proud of?
Each and every one of my pieces holds a special place in my heart however my favourite is the Gucci twisted scarf. I cannot explain how or why but it resonates with me in so many wonderful ways.
What inspires you?
There have been so many incredible inspirations which have helped to develop my aesthetic, and they lean more toward architecture and advertising. After having left school I enrolled in architecture and immersed myself in a world of lines, rendering, and architectural history. It was a completely captivating degree and I spent hour upon hour dissecting oversized black and white scale plans. All my assignments were hand drawn with a pen and ruler, as I couldn't figure out how to navigate CAD and Revit. Late in my second year I started to get left behind as most of the other students got a part-time job and were well on their way to mastering their online skills. For a brief moment I made myself believe that an architect could be successful by rendering everything by hand however that idea was quashed pretty quickly after a chat to some of the lecturers... Devastated, I dropped out. As well as architecture the world of advertising has always fascinated me. Why are products marketed in a certain way? Why do a specific group of people consume them? Why are some companies more successful than others? In my naive opinion it all comes down to marketing and brand perception. The art world is no different. There are small things I am trying to do with my brand that don't just involve the art. I like to keep somewhat consistent so that viewers can identify you with a certain aesthetic.
Why did you decide to make them so large scale?
Over the years I have always drawn quite small sketches and they looked more like fashion illustrations rather than captivating and inspiring pieces of art. I kept on seeing stunning oversize paintings by famous artists and I really wanted to move to a larger scale. Part of me wants the viewer to see my work and be blown away by the sheer size of each piece; I want it to transport a room into a captivating space.
What would be your dream for 10 years time?
I'm not too sure that I can envision 10 years from now. I have personal goals I wish to achieve but good old hard work never goes astray. I'm keen to take each opportunity with both hands and hope with will help leverage me in a really influential position.
Has Instagram changed your life – is everyone now seeing your brilliant art?
Yes, Instagram is a brilliant tool for visual based artists/designers. There is a very large arts community on Instagram and through re-gramming and sharing I have been very fortunate to gain a small following. It all comes down to the fact that most people have Instagram, which certainly helps the cause.
What have been the best things that have happened through your enormous Instagram following?
By far the most exciting opportunity I have had was being asked by The Cool Hunter to be part of his Art Hunter exhibition. This was my first showing and through this brilliant experience it has allowed me to get my name on the map slightly. There are many exciting ideas currently in the works!
Are there any other artists prolific on Instagram who you admire?
I certainly cannot pick one specific artist on Instagram but I follow various design and fashion pages, which always post really stunning images. It is so nice to scroll though and be inspired by other people's personal galleries.
"There is not one word or sentence that can describe the overwhelming feeling I have when I draw... It's just what I was put on this earth to do"
It made me laugh the way you admit to taking selfies on a tripod and selecting the one where you had the skinniest arm; where do you stand on selfies?
I look at selfies like a big joke. I cringe when I see guys/girls trying really hard to pout and position themselves in the most flattering way. Obviously I don't take it seriously or else I would be looking a hell of a lot better in the photos. Let's be real, I think its fun to dress up and put on make-up now and then but you can't try too hard... Who cares?!
Can you tell me about you background as an artist? How you got started, anything you want to add?
Gosh where do I start?! Art is such a weird and wonderful area of life and I am so fortunate to do what I do on a full time basis. This is going to sound strange but there is not one word or sentence that can describe the overwhelming feeling I have when I draw... It's just what I was put on this earth to do. For many years I have been a very frustrated individual always dissatisfied with the jobs I had and the career path I was undertaking. I believe it was an accumulation of this internal frustration and a need to want to improve the direction my live was going. There was a stage two years ago where a stopped and looked at my achievements to date and in all honesty I didn't have much to show for the 24 years I had been around. Knowing that I was at my lowest point it was obvious that there was nothing to lose. I made the decision within the week that I was going to drop out of uni and quit my job and draw full time for one year. I made a deal with myself; if I didn't sell anything in 365 days I would re-enrol in university and go back to what I was doing. Lucking after a couple of months I got my first major sale and there was no way I would ever set foot in a university campus again. So all-in-all art is the best thing that has ever happened to me. It has completely changed my life in more ways than I can even explain. It completely consumes me and when I am drawing the hours fly by, there never seem to be enough hours in the day anymore. Art is my everything!
How did the idea of drawing bags come to be?
It actually started when I sent my sister on a mission to find a particular Hermes cuff I had been trying to track down for a couple of years. It was the full sterling silver Collier de Chien and in Australia there were never in stock. My sister was on holiday in London and I told her to go and have a look in every single Hermes store to try and find one... She found it! Seriously you don't understand how excited I was. She brought it back to Australia in the box however the gorgeous orange paper bag was all crumpled. I had this vision in my head of a perfect box and a perfect paper bag (it was my first Hermes purchase and it was a piece I had been lusting over for years so naturally I wanted to put the paper bag on display as well). I started to really like the fact that this perfect paper shopping bag was battered and crumpled and looked very much discarded. It was nice to see something not look perfect.
"I started to really like the fact that this perfect paper shopping bag was battered and crumpled and looked discarded. It was nice to see something not look perfect"
Why did you pick the bags to draw?
The series of luxury bags was something I really enjoyed because generally speaking when you are walking down the street and you see a person carrying a huge Chanel/Gucci/Givenchy paper shopping bag you immediately want to know what is inside. There is something extremely powerful about those luxury shopping bags, especially when nowadays there has been a huge shift toward online shopping. It is very special to walk into a luxury fashion house and buy your item and walk out with the shopping bag as well as getting to feel the whole in-store experience. The majority of the top fashion houses has tried to hold out with moving online, which makes the paper shopping bags so special and highly sought after.
If money wasn't an object what handbag would you buy?
Hmm that is a tough one. There was a glossy black alligator Birkin with shiny gold hardware which I spied the other day. That is what dreams are made of... Actually if I ever eventually owned one I would never take it out the box for fear of damaging it.
What's your favourite handbag that you own?
My favourite is a cherry red Chanel lego clutch. There were really hard to get so I am very fortunate to have got my hands on one but honestly, I have only even used it once. My all time favourites are sturdy leather bags I can chuck over my shoulder and wear every day with jeans and a tee.
"It is a very lonely process but it suits my personality completely"
What are you working on next?
Taking a little break from the bags, they are sending me crazy! There are so many ideas swimming through my head at any one time I just do whatever I feel like at that particular point in time. Even I don't know!
Why did you decide to just use ink and paper?
There is something extremely elegant about ink. It doesn't smudge like pencil/charcoal and that is the main reason it works so well for me. I am extremely OCD and cannot stand it when everything is not neat. Pen gives me complete control and I love the longevity and intensity of the black pigment.
What's your drawing process like?
The whole process is extremely methodical. There is a small punt of creativity in the initial stages of deciding on the object and layout. Once I have taken photos the creative side is over and from here it is only structured craftsmanship. I have a very regimented routine, I wake up early and go to bed late. On average I will draw for 12-15 hours per day non stop listening to audio books or pod casts to pass the time. It is a very lonely process but it suits my personality completely. I am lucky to have an amazing representative who handles enquiries and organises my life as this allows me to just draw.