Former breakdancer and former “it” turntablist party like it’s 1981 at 111 Minna. -Eric. K. Arnold
A night made famous by Baron Davis’ posterization of Andrei Kirilenko was also a slam dunk for hip-hop culture. The art of Justin Bua combined with the turntable skills of Q-Bert to form a tandem comparable to B-Dizzle and J-Rich, the resurgent duo who carried the Golden State Warriors to playoff glory over the Utah Jazz.
Bua’s gallery opening at 111 Minna showcased a body of work which has elevated hip-hop to a classical stage in the art world. Mixing the highly stylized, character-heavy aesthetic of graffiti with the technical prowess of fine art – an emphasis on perspectives, colors, and shadings which transcends your typical tagger’s hasty throw-up or fill-in – Bua’s collection of canvasses and sketches, which drew from hip-hop, jazz, and urban life in NYC, seemed nothing less than iconic. The centerpiece was the back-in-the-day look at a breakdancing session, “1981,” which is Bua’s “Last Supper,” “Guernica,” or “Starry Night”: a defining, triumphant, masterpiece.
Bua, who was in town to promote his new book, “The Beat of Urban Art,” explained the parallels between hip-hop and jazz thusly: “straight up, they’re both cool … they’re both movements birthed on the street, they’re both very improvisational arts, and they’re both really from the people who don’t have the money. People who come from the ghetto. That’s where those cultures were birthed. Can you find more similarities than that? Probably. But those are pretty good ones.”
The majesty of Bua’s art was matched by a rare DJ set by the maestro of the scratch, Q-Bert, whose harmelodic improvisations entered Ornette Coleman territory. Q’s hands moved with the precise motions and speed of a hummingbird in flight, contrasting the Zen-like look of concentration on his face, which somehow remained still as his nimble fingers carved up vinyl like a Thanksgiving turkey and made mincemeat out of the crossfader. It was a throwback to the days when DJs were the stars of hip-hop culture, evoking a time of cultural purity, when creative expression reigned supreme.
By the end of the night, life imitated art, as a breaking cipher developed on the gallery floor while huge TV screens projected Q’s scratch-happy gesticulations. It was almost as if the scene depicted in “1981” was being reenacted before the eyes of Minna’s lucky patrons, who were witnessing history in the making, mere hours after our beloved Warriors made their own history.
-Eric K. Arnold