“Follow your dreams” is the kind of saccharine, rarely-practical advice that we are spoon-fed by countless films and TV shows, and which is responsible for increasing numbers of youngsters auditioning for The X Factor when they should probably be doing their homework. But every now and then a success story comes along, of somebody who forwent their education in order to pursue their passion, which serves to vindicate this attitude.
Enter artist CJ Hendry. She quit her architecture degree and took to her Instagram page to showcase her large-scale, incredibly detailed line drawings. While at university, Hendry produced all of her assignments with a pen and ruler, as she couldn’t get the hang of CAD. This led to a love of drawing by hand, and Hendry decided to take a year off to focus entirely on her art. “I made a deal with myself; If I didn’t sell anything in 365 days I would re-enrol in university and go back to what I was doing. Luckily, after a couple of months I got my first major sale and there was no way I would ever set foot in a university campus again.”
This week, Hendry presented a piece of work to that infamous dropout-turned-superstar, Kanye West. “He has been such an incredibly inspiration for me for many years,” says Hendry, “so to finally get the opportunity to present my work to him was like a dream.” The piece was a portrait of West on a $100 bill. Luxury goods and celebrity culture are often the subject of Hendry’s hyper-realistic images: “Pop culture interests me, celebrity life, products; you know, I’m a buyer, I’m a consumer… That interests me – the way brands build their products and the way they sell them.”
The consumerist nature of Hendry’s work, coupled with her less-than-conventional route to success, has led led journalist Susan Johnson to dub her a “pop-up artist”. “Words such as ‘value’ and ‘longevity’ have little currency in this world,” she says, “where instantaneous popularity is everything and the greatest prizes are visibility and money.”
But circumnavigating university (and the expenses it incurs) in order to turn a passion into a living wage is becoming less of an anomaly. These days, more and more teenage entrepreneurs are bringing their ideas to market across a wide range of industries, including tech, fashion and entertainment, before they even finish high school.
One of the key takeaways from Courtney Love and Rob Lowe’s respective seminars at Cannes Lions this year was that artists have to take charge of their work, and turn it into a business if they are going to make it in such a competitive landscape. Which is exactly what Hendry and so many others are doing.