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How Cj Hendry used Instagram to make millions from her art — and sell Kanye to Kanye

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Written by Nathan Sing, CNN

Cj Hendry is part of a new wave of self-made Instagram artists who have crashed their way into the art world via the internet.

Through Instagram, Hendry’s photorealistic pencil drawings have reached millions online, and she has also made millions selling her work. This is a step outside the customary approach of finding a gallerist to represent you, or accessing a patron or public funds.

“In the past, artists had to wait for a gallery to do your show and people couldn’t just see your work. They had to come to the exhibition when the gallery allowed it to happen. Now you can show people whatever you want at any time you wish,” said Australia-born Hendry over the phone from her home in Brooklyn, New York.

Hendry’s color pencil drawings are so realistic they can be likened to photocopies, and take up to 80 hours to complete. She has drawn everything from Chanel perfume bottles, Louboutin sneakers, crumpled up Hermès shopping bags, and a Zebra with a Louis Vuitton monogram pattern replacing the animal’s stripes. These were done as an homage to luxury goods, which, in a roundabout way, brought Hendry success in the first place.

A photorealistic illustration of a Chanel shopping bag by CJ Hendry

A photorealistic illustration of a Chanel shopping bag by CJ Hendry Credit: Courtesy of Cj Hendry

While she may have half a million followers on Instagram and a 22,000-square-foot warehouse to work out of today, just a few years ago the Australian artist said her life was at “rock bottom.”

One night in 2014 while out with friends, Hendry reached into her $5,000 purse to pay for a round of drinks only to have her card declined. After years of excessive spending her bank account was dry. “From a young age, I’ve just been obsessed with luxury and spending all my money on things I couldn’t afford,” said Hendry. At that moment she had an epiphany. “I thought, ‘surely I can amount to more than this?'”

Hendry, who had dabbled in art since she was a child, decided to quit her retail job at Chanel, drop out of university where she had been studying architecture and finance for seven years, and pursue a full-time career as an artist. As a way to fund her endeavor she sold her entire collection of handbags, shoes, and clothes on eBay.

A drawing of a Dior scarf by CJ Hendry

A drawing of a Dior scarf by CJ Hendry Credit: Courtesy of Cj Hendry

She started posting images of incomplete drawings that showed her meticulous process, as well as the finished products, on Instagram — which, at the time, was still in its infancy. “I, along with many other people, had a dinky Instagram account and literally that was all there was to it. I just started posting things and it kind of went from there,” said Hendry.

After a couple of months of consistent posting, Hendry’s drawing of a pair of R.M. Williams boots caught the eye of a family friend, who direct messaged her to inquire about the piece and eventually purchased it for $6,500 ($10,000 AUD).

Artist CJ Hendry making a photorealistic drawing of a disco ball

Artist CJ Hendry making a photorealistic drawing of a disco ball Credit: Courtesy of Cj Hendry

This first sale pushed her to keep going, and soon Hendry’s audience began to grow by the thousands. She branched out from luxury items into photorealistic drawings of everything from Andy Warhol’s Polaroids, Rorschach tests, disco balls, and a crumpled $100 bill with Kanye West’s face on it — which was eventually purchased by West himself (for an undisclosed amount). Hendry gradually shifted her online fame to success in the real world and now, her collections sell out in seconds for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece.

It’s better in real life

Today, over a billion people have an Instagram account, and the photo and video-sharing app has proved to be a hotbed of new creative talent; a place where artists can reach audiences without the need for a middleman. Instead of trying to appeal to a gallerist to put on one of their shows, or pay to rent spaces themselves, artists can easily post and share what they want (within guidelines set by Facebook, who now own Instagram, of course).

Instagram may be the biggest transformative tool for the sale and promotion of art since the advent of art fairs in the late-1960s. Not only has it changed the way art is seen and sold, it has added a digital layer to the work itself. Because it is visually driven, the artist’s that can make their work sparkle on this platform — like Callen Schaub with his pendulum paintings, or French street artist JR’s photo curation — can kickstart their careers.

“The big galleries and mega players in the art world now realize the importance of Instagram. They have all realized that the biggest collectors are all on Instagram and the collectors of tomorrow are on Instagram, so they have to build those relationships now,” said Joe Kennedy, co-founder of contemporary art gallery UNIT London, in a phone interview. He jumped on the Instagram game early, and used to it help build his gallery’s reputation from scratch. Now, UNIT often works with emerging artists that they’ve discovered online.

Aside from some financial successes such as Hendry’s, however, Kennedy says the app is more of a launchpad, and may not be enough to advance an artist to the next stages of their career.

“You will struggle to find any artists out there that have got serious museum shows or have a serious legacy who don’t have gallery relationships or aren’t represented formally,” Kennedy said.

"Red Poppy" by CJ Hendry.

“Red Poppy” by CJ Hendry. Credit: CJ Hendry

These days, even Hendry is focused more on her big-budget shows. “So much of art, not just mine but everyone’s art, is viewed online and through your iPhone. I think it’s more important now than ever for people to have the energy and capacity to take it offline and to showcase ideas in a physical setting,” she said.

For her seventh solo exhibition “Epilogue,” (which was originally scheduled to show in London in April but has been moved to later this year due to Covid-19 restrictions), Hendry and her team renovated a derelict east London church. They drilled holes in the ceiling to install four industrial confetti machines filled with 10 tons of custom-made white confetti in the shape of flower petals, which will slowly fall over guests over the course of each day, gradually gathering on the ground.

These kinds of ways of engaging with the public, and the experiential potential of art, is now at the heart of what Hendry does. “We can sell the art without the exhibition, but that’s just being an Instagrammer. I can just sell art, but that is no interest to me,” she said. “It’s about, for me, building a bigger narrative, something more conceptual.”


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Fashion & Style

Prabal Gurung’s Stronger In Colour Collection Is Donating 100% Of Proceeds To The Bail Project

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For many brands, 2020 will be the year they “pulled up” to stop racial injustice, both in the fashion industry and beyond — but not for Prabal Gurung. Since founding his namesake brand in 2009, Gurung has been constantly fighting to make the fashion industry a more equal place at every turn, which is now underscored by the revival of a relevant past project. Announced on Jun. 3, Prabal Gurung’s “Stronger In Colour” collection is getting a second life, continuing the commitment to diversity and inclusion that’s been the brand’s lifeblood from the start, selling 100% charitable tees and hoodies for a noble cause.

Available on its site right now, shoppers can choose from two unisex styles, in two shades — a basic tee ($95), or a basic hoodie ($175), in either black or white. In multicolored typeface, each reads “STRONGER IN COLOUR,” echoing the longtime ethos of the New York-based womenswear brand. To sweeten the deal, 100% of net proceeds will be donated to The Bail Project, which is presently focused on combatting the mass incarceration disproportionately affecting the Black community.

Right now, there’s a disparity between brands who have been posting fervently in accordance with the present moment, and those who were slower to respond. The Nepalese-American designer has, alternatively, been using his near-750,000 following to get messages out around the clock, spread powerful footage of protests and messages of hope. Still, he believes there’s more to be done. “We have posted, donated, signed petitions, marched in protests, spoken on panels, and shared important resources – but this didn’t feel like enough. This is just one additional step, and we know there is still more we can do,” shared Gurung in an Instagram post this week.

Available now through Jun. 15, shoppers can purchase the tops exclusively on Prabal Gurung’s site. To participate in the movement and support the brand’s initiative, browse the styles ahead — and, you can shop rest assured that your full contribution is paid forward. And, as the fight continues, some words of encouragement from Gurung’s Instagram: “…as we walk through the streets alongside protests, and unified chants for justice are heard around the world, it feels as though we are on the precipice of true change as this movement barrels forward.”

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Some of the hottest streetwear brands are making a George Floyd memorial tee

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Fear of God has pulled together some of the best names in streetwear and fashion for a T-shirt honoring George Floyd. Off-White, Pyer Moss, Union, Noah, Awake, Just Don, Denim Tears, and Melody Ehsani all lend their names to the tee, of which proceeds will go to the Gianna Floyd Fund.

The late Floyd’s initials appear on the front of the shirt, while all nine brand logos appear on the back. Available in black or white, the shirt will sell exclusively through Fear of God’s Instagram page for $100. It goes live at 9 a.m. PST Friday, June 5.

Fear of God

A limited run — While streetwear consumers often call for fundraising T-shirts to be made available for pre-order to maximize proceeds, COVID-19 has rendered that more difficult. We’ve seen it already with Supreme and Noah’s coronavirus relief tees, and that’s the case here as well. Jerry Lorenzo, Fear of God’s founder and designer, said in an Instagram comment that the T-shirts are “limited to the fabric availability we have.”

Streetwear at its best — At its roots, and too often forgotten, streetwear is about community. And you can’t talk about the culture surrounding it without acknowledging the contributions and support from the black community. That makes it encouraging, but not at all surprising to see so many brands step up to raise funds to organizations tied to Black Lives Matter, as well as the families of victims.

Online Ceramics

With T-shirts quick and easy to produce, several brands have produced their own as fundraisers, including Brain Dead and Blood Orange, Online Ceramics, Andrew, and Advisory Board Crystals. In addition to the Fear of God collaboration, Denim Tears also has its own tee with proceeds going to the Know Your Rights Camp.

Without product involved, Supreme announced it’ll donate $500,000 amongst Black Lives Matter, Equal Justice Initiative, Campaign Zero, and Black Futures Lab. A-Cold-Wall*, meanwhile, will award 10 grants for a total of £25,000 (~$31,500) to independent, back-owned companies.


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Banana Republic Donates $20M of Clothes to Americans in Need

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Over the past few months, we’ve spotlighted fashion businesses stepping up and taking action, whether it’s to help support Americans affected by the COVID-19 crisis or to stand behind the Black community with donations, acknowledging the racially unjust murder of George Floyd and the larger conversation surrounding Black Lives Matter. Brands with a large platform can and should acknowledge voices that are struggling in America, and Banana Republic — notably a part of parent company Gap Inc. — is striving to make a difference. BR teamed up with Delivering Good to donate more than $20 million of new clothing to those in need in order to help America get back to work. It’s a project they’re calling “Will Work For a Better Republic,” and it comes after months of actionable Instagram posts the brand has put up, all of which are meant to encourage positive thinking.

“By supporting Delivering Good [an organization that helps kids and families through tragedies], Banana Republic is helping men and women across the US, including those facing poverty, homelessness, and job loss. Among our network of more than 700 community partners, we will focus this donation on nonprofits with workforce training and re-entry programs and markets that have been especially affected by the current crises. This donation will have such a positive impact on men, women and disadvantaged young adults,” said Delivering Good President and CEO Lisa Gurwitch.

In effort to promote equality, Banana Republic has also come together with Gap Inc. brands Athleta, Gap, and Old Navy to donate $250,000 to the National Association For the Advancement of Colored People and EmbraceRace. Previously, Gap Inc. donated $1M to support underserved families in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, posting the news on Instagram on March 27. Banana Republic also came out with a reusable cotton face mask for customers to purchase, committing to a donation of $10 to Feeding America’s COVID-19 Response Fund for every mask sold. Scroll down to read about these initiatives directly from Banana Republic’s feed.


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