Interview - CJ Hungerman
Artist - CJ Hungerman
OCCI - Can you tell me a little bit about your artistic upbringing and how you started your career?
CJ - I went to college for art and graphic design, and I used to teach at a university level. Did all the traditional art and computer classes and I started teaching painting/drawing through Photoshop and illustrator. From there I was adjunct faculty at a couple universities and then in 2008 (during the market crash) the whole thing fell out, we all got fired.
So fine, real job ended. I became a trade show designer, and picked up a lot of the techniques from trade shows that filtered into my current work. Additionally I hooked up with some graffiti artists in Chicago who showed me some tricks that made my work transform from traditional to sort of the stuff that I'm doing now.
OCCI: Any of graffiti artists you still collaborate or run with?
CJ: I lost track of some of those guys because it was 15 years ago, but recently I got to work with tubs (Tubzilla) and Franco (LeftyOutThere), Suburban Warrior from Dallas. It’s cool to meet those guys and others. I get to party with all these guys, but I'm a little older than them, so I go home earlier.
OCCI: You tend to do some pretty large scale stuff, do you prefer the larger works or keeping it confined to the canvas / computer screen?
CJ: I love all of it, right now I have a couple contracts for large murals in 2022 for airports in Phoenix and Pittsburgh. And then a big mural to do in Elgin.
OCCI: I describe your work to people as having a bit of a psychedelic 3D feel and element, you get the sense the design is popping off the canvas. With that in mind do you typically start on a digital format, and work back to canvas? Or Vice-Versa.
CJ: Every day I work from home, I have 2 kids so I take care of them. So I'm in my studio or on my computer constantly and my work is an interaction between my work life and home life, it's this juxtaposition of 2 worlds going on that fits the artwork. I do what I do now because the fun colors and inspiration all come from the toys that my kids use, or the downtown graffiti artists. I have shapes & icons that I like and that I'm used to working with on canvas, and I take whatever rainbows, clouds or other influences that are impacting me that day, and I start messing with them on my canvas. Which I'll do maybe 6 or 7 every couple months to experiment.
Which you would probably say is easier computer, but I like the tactile feel of using spray paint or screens so when I‘m finished I photograph it put it on a computer to start manipulating them for things like murals.
OCCI: What keeps you grounded and focused?
CJ: I love to paint every day, and really what it comes down to it's a very selfish act. It makes my head feel good. I can tell you unless I have a job, I wake up to 1 of the children throwing a toy at me, I take care of them then I go to the studio. I don't watch a lot of TV, I'm very specific about what I like to watch, which is 2 programs - stranger things and Star Trek discovery. And they don't make them for like two and a half years, so I listen to a lot of music. But I'm constantly thinking about art or taking care of my house and family, you know what I mean. I'm a musician too so I teach the kids music and I'm involved in making sure that they do something more lucrative than being an artist (laughs).
OCCI: What what instruments you play?
CJ: I play so I was trained in jazz drums but along with you know I do both the percussion instruments and piano so I show the kids, but they want to play bass and guitar so I I know the basics for that. We have a we have a guy with a music shop in our neighborhood and they'll go up and learn from him.
OCCI: Follow up question to your other statement what did you think of that new issues the stranger things?
CJ: I like how they wrapped it up, giving you like a golden nugget with Hopper just like any of the Marvel universe movies. I didn't know how I was going to dig the Russian thing but it really worked out well. I lived during that time so it all resonated with me.
OCCI: You're in Chicago right now but from Pittsburgh originally, correct?
CJ: Yeah I got to Chicago 96' for graduate school, and I've been here ever since
OCCI: Between the cultures, culinary, architecture, and more - what do you find inspiring about Chicago?
CJ: I've lived in about 6 different cities, Chicago is by far my favorite. I love Pittsburgh, but Chicago is so easy to get around. Talking to people and artists specifically, no matter how well off they are or how poor they are, everybody talks to you the same way. What I love most is going from restaurants to bar to restaurant to bar eating food & drinking beer, because there is nothing like Chicago in the summer, or fall .. or winter.
OCCI: What’s in your pocket’s right now?
CJ: I don't have any pockets - I'm painting right now and wearing sport shorts, so no pockets.
OCCI: You get one superpower - what is it and why?
CJ: Can there be a super power to stop Donald Trump, can I have that?
OCCI: I believe that is actually the correct answer. Last question. What advice would you give to a younger C. J. when you were starting your career?
CJ: Don't start drinking (laughs) I would have been years ahead of where I am today if I hadn't started drinking like an idiot.