Artist CJ Hendry Reveals Why She’s Still Proving Herself

Artist CJ Hendry Reveals Why She’s Still Proving Herself

The new face for lululemon is keeping it hyper-real using yoga principles, but off the mat.

By Ella Damiani | 28th June 2017

How did growing up in Australia shape your art?
What I find interesting is that Instagram, social media, and the internet is so global and so I think I was able to look and view things that were going on around me at more of a global level. I wasn’t thinking the US, I wasn’t thinking Australia, I wasn’t thinking I was part of any particular country. The fact that everything was so global kind of made it easy for me to fit in everyone. It was because of a lot of things and a lot of influences. I’m very grateful for being Australian, and I think living in New York, you really start to appreciate how wonderful Aussies are. You know, the way they act, their attitude, you know, there’s a whole lot that I miss.

What do you like about the Australian art scene?
I think the Australian art scene is fantastic and I think there’s a lot of competition and a lot of talent. There’s a lot of talent everywhere. There are not too many Australian artists that are at a global scale that compete at the highest level. I’m not saying that I do at all because there’s people that are far more extraordinarily talented than I am, but I think that in terms of competition, the stakes are a lot higher outside of Australia. I think it’s good to start your career off in Australia, absolutely, and I think the competition and the galleries in Australia are very competitive, but for what I want to achieve, I think it’s good for me to be in the states. I mean, there’s so much. There are positives and negatives to everything.

Does your artwork ever reflect Australian-specific things? Will it ever?
The only thing I’ve ever done is the R.M.Williams boots. Will I? Yes. I’m kind of brewing on a series now. I’m so not about exclusivity and privacy when it comes to my ideas, so I’ll tell you. It’s like drawing beautiful Polaroid photos. So, it will look like the Polaroid is on a piece of paper behind a frame. Because generally when you take a Polaroid photo, you kind of put it in the drawer and you don’t really hang it up. I mean, maybe you might, but generally not. So, I want to do Polaroids in more of an abstract way. So, you know, abstract images of New York. But when I spend more time back in Australia, I’d love to take my camera with me. So, I dunno. I haven’t really done anything Australian. I have hundreds of Polaroids. They’re so stunning and so gorgeous. They’re such an elegant, intimate, and beautiful thing. So, I’d love to bring all of the Polaroids that I’ve taken over the years to life and draw them and put them up on people’s walls. There’s something very gorg about it, so we’ll see.

A post shared by Cj Hendry (@cj_hendry) on

How influential was Instagram, and social media in general, in launching your career?
It has been extremely influential. At the time, I think social media was at its prime. I don’t think Instagram and social media is what it was three or four years ago. So, I think I was on it at a very nice time. But you know what, there are a lot of people with a lot bigger Instagram followings. I know it’s important and I don’t take it too seriously. You know, I put time into it, but I’m not there doing hashtags and checking how many followers I’ve got. I know that creating and inspiring people with beautiful images through social is very important. I know that I need to do that, but then I don’t take it any further.

In the early days, I was so on top of it, and I was doing it every day, but I don’t know, I see the world slightly differently now. And yes, Instagram is super-important, but I think you can get a little caught up with all of it, so yeah. It’s a weird and unusual place to build and grow a brand, I think. I want to make my work even more inspiring and the scale grander, and you know, we’re busy building a studio now, so I think that will lend itself to the work. But yeah, I think it’s good to kind of take a look and a step back and look at it from a different perspective. But as well, you’ve also got to be realistic and Instagram is very powerful. A good example of that is we were able to sell our work in Hong Kong completely via Instagram and a link. And it was just insane. I don’t think I truly appreciated it until then, really. You don’t really appreciate it until it’s all happening.

A post shared by Cj Hendry (@cj_hendry) on

Have you found it harder to gain respect in the art world because of how you’ve built your brand?
Yes. I’ve found it very hard. In the art world, there’s the art world and then there’s the Instagram artists. The art world is so insular and there’s so few people that are part of it. So, for the general population, it’s like “yeah, this is awesome”, but then in the art world you really need to kind of prove yourself a little bit more than that. They’re like, “Yay, you have an Instagram account, we don’t give a fuck”. So, you know, you definitely have to prove yourself and it’s also just like you know if they’re not keen for it, then they’re just not keen for it. What are you going to do about it? You’ve just kind of got to get on with it. You can’t take it too seriously. It’s a funny balance because it’s important but you can’t let it consume you. You really need to spend time not letting it consume you, so it’s a weird balance. It’s a double-edged sword.

A post shared by Cj Hendry (@cj_hendry) on

Can you just kind of set the scene of where you live and work?
I'm an artist, and I draw things. I work in a very meticulous way. It's a very lonely, long process in terms of making each piece. I'm very prolific in the way that I work. I'm very methodical. I guess I'm a little bit different from other artists. Or maybe let me say it this way: Hyper-realism, the art form of hyper-realism, the way I make my art, I think requires a whole different level of focus than most artists' practice just because it is so time-consuming and so labor-intensive. I feel like I'm on my own all the time, which is fine. I'm a bit of a loner anyway, so it doesn't faze me. But it's a very selfish, lonely process in terms of making my craft.

Why is it lonely?
It's lonely because there is no one else who can help, which makes that a little bit frustrating as well because you want to sometimes delegate and let other people do what you do, but it's like I am the only person who can do what I do, and while that's a good thing, it can sometimes be detrimental to the people closest to me because I don't get to spend as much time with them as I want. But I'm lucky to do it, and I love it. With hyper-realism, you have to be quite methodical and dedicated. I think I'm kind of like an athlete in that I'm very particular with the way that I work, and it's, like I said, very selfish because I work so much. I get up very early and I go to bed very late, and I just work all day and I don't kind of have much downtime. It requires a huge amount of dedication and focus to create each piece.

You mention you’re intense. Is there a sense of control there too?
My art offers an extreme amount of clarity. While I'm sitting there, doing this insanely controlling thing, it's almost like this narcissistic thing that I do. I just sit there, being so selfish all day. It offers a very calm, meditative feeling because I can just be very calm while doing it.

How is it meditative for you?
It just comes so naturally and it's something I don't need to think about. And I think when you learn something for the first time, it takes a lot of energy. You have to exert a lot of energy. But I'm at the stage now where I don't exert any energy doing it because it's like second nature now, so I can now do a lot of other things while I draw, like listen, like learn a language, and listen to podcasts and talk to people and talk on the phone and do a heap of other things while I draw. It sounds very cliché, but when I am drawing, I jump into this bubble. This cloud kind of comes. I kind of put on my headphones and it's like I'm in this little zone without forcing myself to be in a zone. It's in a zone I just love being in. And I feel very, very slow when I'm in there. It's just this very nice, easy place to be in.

What around you do you lose track of?
When I'm drawing, I lose track of time. I lose track of feeling, to a certain extent. I lose track of emotion. I'm just in the zone. I'm just doing me for however many hours in the day.

But it puts you on a track, right? When you do methodical things?
I can't explain it. It's just a very slow calm that kind of overtakes me in a way. It's not like this easy-to-explain thing. It's just this thing that happens without me even knowing it. Drawing to the level of intensity that I draw, and the amount of hours that I draw, is like literally my whole life and my whole identity, so I don't know anything else, so it's not really something I can just easily explain. Because it's something I feel more often than I feel anything else. It's probably like a high that I've become so used to that I don't even know. Do you know what I mean?

How do you feel when you can't do it?
When I'm not drawing, I feel a little bit scatty. I feel a little bit stressed. I get tired. I get very, very frustrated. We were in Hong Kong for two weeks, which was fantastic, on holiday, but I don't love taking holidays. Obviously seeing the sites is amazing. Eating all the food. But I'm like I just love being in this mega-controlled place where I can just do me all the time.

A post shared by Cj Hendry (@cj_hendry) on

So, why do you live in such a busy place if you like that isolation? Talk about the juxtaposition a bit.
It's a weird place to be for someone like me, but I know that the opportunities are great if I'm going to have any chance of making it. Any chance of progressing my career. This is the art hub of the world, so it's good to be in the thick of it. I don't have to be here. I think I've chosen to be here because I want to progress my career more. Well, more than where I'm at. I think New York's the best place for that to happen. You come to New York and there’s tech, there’s property, there’s fashion, there’s film, there’s art, there’s literally everything on a very big scale.

So, being in New York is the best place to be for creative people?
I'm weirdly not that creative. I'm just very focused. Ok, some artists are extremely true creatives. They create all day. They'll create when they're feeling something and something extraordinary comes out of it. My practice, the way I've set my practice up, it's not about how I'm feeling at any one particular day. It's just sheer methodical draftsmanship. There's no wild creativity anywhere. It's like an inch of creativity here and there, and then the majority of it is just like sitting down and getting the job done.

Why do you think that's the case, that you have to be focused to be creative?
I think when creatives are given too much freedom without any channel, direct channel, to channel their creativity into, it can get lost and then their creativity kind of gets sucked up in the noise. If you give a creative a very clean-cut – quite a clean-cut brief and a general gist of how it needs to be done, I think the best can come from it.

Maybe that's the same with me. I've got a very, very clean-cut brand and a very clean-cut way I go about doing it. There's not much deviation from that. I guess I can create within this very tight path. Does that make sense? I've worked with people that are mega-creatives and they just kind of create with no direction, and it just turns into mush. It doesn't go anywhere, you know? I think there does need to be a clinical side to any business, any creative venture, anything, because without structure and organisation, the execution never gets done. And, generally with creativity, that’s 2 per cent and then it's 98 per cent execution. That's with anything, you know?

Can you explain a bit of the process for you when you draw?
The thing that I'm drawing is the afterthought. It's the method and the system to get it done that’s the main focus. I could literally draw anything and it wouldn’t really matter, but it’s the way in which it’s done and styled and finished which is more important than what it is that I'm drawing. I don't even know what I'm drawing half the time. I don't really care. It's just the way in which it's done is the most important. What I'm drawing is irrelevant at the end of the day because my focus is putting all my energy into the one little square centimetre at any one time. It’s not about the overall picture. It's about each little element, each little pixel creating the bigger picture. So, it's just about focusing on each little area. I don’t even know what I’m drawing in each little pixel. It’s just like a little circle of things and then it kind of all combines together to make one big thing.

But that's hyper-focused. That's when you're in a flow state, right?
Yeah. I guess when I’m in my flow, it’s just about focusing on the section that I’m working on and that’s all. Once I get one section done, I move on to the next. It's a very systematic way of working. I don’t kind of go from one end to the other, how I'm feeling this, that and the next thing. It’s just repetitive draftsmanship, really. Imagine doing the same thing every day for 365 days a year for five years. You get very good at that one thing.

Do you meditate?
I don't meditate, but I guess my practice is meditation without me even knowing it.

So, you don't meditate at all but you guess you do it inadvertently?
Very much inadvertently. I don't meditate. I'm not active. I’m not sporty. I’m not fit. That’s me. That’s my body. Don’t hate me for it. I just love all the things you’re not meant to love because it just makes me happy. I love eating snacks, and I don’t enjoy exercise so I don’t do it. But I love sitting down and drawing. I feel like it gives me everything I need.

What's the conversation in your head when you're drawing?
I don’t have a conversation when I’m drawing. It’s just complete chill zone. I don’t do anything while I’m drawing. I do my drawing, but my brain doesn't think about anything. It's just there. It's just hanging out. Because I don’t need to think about the drawing because it comes so easily. I don’t need to think about it. It just happens. I don’t do too much. It's a very relaxing place to be. Yeah. I don’t stress out. I don't think about anything, really.

A post shared by Cj Hendry (@cj_hendry) on

What advice would you give to somebody starting out and/or taking a big risk?
The more you commit yourself, your mind, your time, I think the more success you will see. It's like the harder you work, the luckier you’ll get. That’s the only thing I know. Obviously, a great idea helps, but generally speaking, it doesn't even need to be a great idea. You just need to execute. It's about doing, not thinking, I think. You’ve just got to go ahead and do it. If you want to achieve something, you’ve got to do it. Talking about it won’t work. Doing it. Not relying on people, not asking for help necessarily. It’s about you figuring out what you can do to your capacity, I think. I hate giving advice, though, because it’s like I know I’m one in a million. I know most people couldn’t do what I do. Hell no, I wouldn’t expect that. But it just depends on what people can handle and what they want. Most people’s success is just make a buck or two. I’m like, fuck that. That’s terrible, but oh well.

I’m so competitive. In my head, I think I'm Beyoncé, but I'm not. Anyone can be the best. You’ve just got to commit. I hate that word the “best”. That’s gross. You can achieve literally anything, literally anything, if you want it badly enough. And it’s weird to say that as an artist. That’s something a sports person would say. You know what I mean? But it’s like I almost think like an athlete without being an athlete. I just am so focused to the point of craziness. I just put my mind to something in terms of execution and idea, and then I’ll just go ahead and do it. The idea takes all of half a day to a day, and then the execution can take eight months.

You’ve mentioned the word “athlete” a few times. Can you explain that a little more?
I certainly don’t want to put myself at the level of some elite athletes because that would not be respectful. But, I used to compete as a swimmer when I was a lot younger and I represented Australia. It was in the past. The damage is done. It was a funny old time but I kind of know the sacrifice and I love sacrificing parts of my life in order to achieve a goal that’s greater than me. I’m a really focused person. I do like to work hard and see results, so I don’t know how other artists work, so I won’t talk on behalf of them, but I work in a structured way. I get up early. I work for at least 12 hours each day just drawing, 15 when you add in everything else, and I think that’s really important in my practice because my practice is relatively labour-intensive in terms of the time I spend drawing. It’s not like a slop of paint on canvas and then I’m done. There’s a lot more to it.

So many of your drawings feature luxury brands. Why the interest?
It’s really funny because when I first started, this is like years and years ago now, I was infatuated and obsessed with luxury. I think it was because I was working in luxury and it’s a funny thing because when you can’t afford it you want it more than anything. And I’m not saying that now I can afford it, but back in the day, it was very much every single dollar went into buying things and it consumed me completely and that kind of led into my work. Nowadays I want to say more with my art. So, I think you’ll see a lot more of my art move in a slightly different direction. I don’t know what direction that is right now. Maybe Polaroids. That’s an idea. I don’t even know if that’s going to come to fruition. I kind of come up with all these ideas and then they change all the time.

Just recently, I had a collaboration with Christian Louboutin, the French shoe brand, and I had never ever collaborated with a luxury brand before on that scale. And the fact that I didn’t draw product, but I collaborated with a luxury brand, was kind of really counter-intuitive. It kind of didn’t make any sense, but it was so perfect for what I was trying to do, so I was so grateful that they let me go off on a tangent and do what I wanted to do without drawing the products. I’m very grateful to have that collaboration. This Lululemon collaboration, too, it’s just mind-blowing for your first ever global brand campaign to be working with a brand so established. It’s so humbling, and I feel sometimes awkward because I’m like “wow, little old me doing my thing”, and then Lululemon’s like, “hey, we want to work with you”, and I’m like “oh gosh, really? Why? Why would you want to do that?”. And it’s not even like that stupid false modesty, it’s really just like I’m over here working my ass off, giving it a go, and when people do take notice, it is very flattering and so humbling. There are so many artists in the world, so the fact that I get to do this and work with such great brands is kind of insane.

Last, what’s up next for you?
I’m very excited about moving to our big warehouse in Brooklyn. It’s an enormous space. I’m like “holy crap, how are we going to fill this space?”, so it’s good we’ll definitely be able to grow into it, but it is very big. I want to increase my scale, whether that is through sculpture, whether that is through drawing, painting, different mediums, I’m not sure yet. I do want to focus on experimentation a lot this year, not just drawing, because I think that’s been established. I’m like “yep, I can draw”, so it’s almost become not that much of a challenge for me as it was in the early days, so I do like to push myself and try new things. So, it may look very different from what has come before, but I kind of want that. I want to do something a bit unusual.

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Article by Ella Damiani

This story has been written by a Guest Styler for Style


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