‘I’m Not Even an Artist, Really. I’ve Been Winging It!’: How Instagram Sensation Cj Hendry Makes Art-Market Success Look Easy
For her new show of "Rorschach" drawings, Hendry installed the white bouncy castle to mimic the padded walls of a mental institution.
Australian artist Cj Hendry greeted me with a big hug. Then, as we broke apart, she took three running steps and launched herself in the air, belly-flopping onto the white inflated surface of the 3,000-square-foot bouncy castle that makes up most of her current exhibition “Rorschach,” on view in a warehouse in the DUMBO neighborhood of Brooklyn.
I immediately followed suit, delighted but also mystified by the presence of the largest inflatable I have ever seen at this typically hyperrealist artist’s exhibition. “I thought it was just drawings,” I told her.
“Fuck no!” Hendry fired back. Having built her brand largely on Instagram, Hendry knows how get the public to pay attention to art: “You’ve kind of got to be a kook and do the stupid shit.” And like other pop-up Instagram museums, admission isn’t free. Hendry’s charging (a relatively modest) $10 per visitor to help cover her production costs, and the first 20,000 guests will also get a pair of black-and-white Rorschach inkblot socks, perhaps to wear while visiting the exhibition.
Entering the show requires navigating the inflatable maze, which Hendry has conceived as the white padded walls of a mental installation, ordering it from a company in LA that was able to add special “quilting” to the floor and walls, to better mimic a psych ward—it’s a fitting setting for her “Rorschach” drawings, which were inspired by the famous inkblot tests.
The bounce house setting evokes a sense of youthful whimsy that pairs well with Hendry’s take on the classic Rorschach test. Instead of ink, she’s drawn textural blobs of paint, as if it had been squeezed out on the page and folded in two. They are hyper-detailed, deceptively photographic, and leap off the page. “I don’t know about you, but when I was a kid I was taught to make squish paintings,” she said.
Together, Hendry hopes the experience offers “an interesting mix of psychological and sinister with childlike and playful.” (The subject could have lent itself to a darker interpretation, she allowed: “I love artists that make work like that, and I’m very inspired by that, but I couldn’t do that myself—my work is very kitsch.”)
Hendry spent nearly the entirety of the past year working on the drawings, which leap off the page, deceptively photographic. “They take ages,” she said.
The abstract quality of these new works mark a sharp departure from her hyperrealist roots. Hendry got her start making black-and-white drawings of Chanel handbags while working for several years at the Chanel store. Her work struck a chord with the Instagram masses, and today she has a full-time team of four working with her at her Greenpoint, Brooklyn, studio.
“I didn’t go to art school. I dropped out of architecture and then I dropped out of finance,” Hendry said. “I’m very unqualified. I’m not even an artist, really. I’ve been winging it!”
Her unconventional background has led some to dub her an “Instagram artist,” as the New York Times recently did in a piece that went on to describe her as “an example of how an artist can survive—prosper—outside the established art world, thanks to social media.” But it also suggested that she’s striving for “art-world acceptance.”
“I read it, I was like, ‘you fuckwits,'” Hendry laughed. “The Times is so dinosaur-y. They missed the whole point of what I’m trying to do.”
It’s true that Hendry lacks gallery representation, and that she has built up her collector base largely from her massive Instagram following. But Hendry says she’s not anti-art world, and she’s not looking to create a new paradigm for art in the Instagram age.
“Of course I don’t want to handle everything myself! It’s all just happened accidentally,” Hendry said, adding that she’s open to working with a gallery that’s the right fit.
But for now she’s doing just fine on her own. Ahead of the press preview, all 12 drawings had sold, priced at $14,900 each, and $180,000 for the diptych. A second set of 10 Rorschach images will be available starting April 15 in editions of 100, printed using a lenticular lens so that it changes color based on the viewing angle. They are priced at $575 each.
“CJ Hendry: Rorschach” is on view at 202 Plymouth Street, Brooklyn, April 10–21, 2019.
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