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The business of art: CJ Hendry’s strategy short circuits the art sector’s traditional model

7th April 2015

A QUT case study into cult artist CJ Hendry illustrates how effectively Instagram can be repurposed to disrupt the centuries-old business model of the art sector.

The commercially-focused artist from Brisbane has become an international sensation in under three years with her hyper-realistic drawings of luxury goods like Gucci shoes, displayed and sold only through her Instagram account.

Believed to be the first time Instagram has been used strategically to successfully disrupt Australia's art sector, CJ Hendry's works have caught the eye of celebrities including Kanye West.

"From a design perspective, CJ is a fascinating example of the power and speed of digital disruption," QUT Creative Industries design-led innovation expert Dr Cara Wrigley said.

"With her unique approach to creating and selling her works, she has completely sidestepped the traditional 'struggling artist' phase in a typical artistic career.

"Our findings show she's used Instagram very effectively to bypass the conservative business model of Australia's art sector, in which artists compete for exhibition space in galleries to build a profile and sell works - galleries whose cut of the sales can be as much as 50 per cent.

"Under the traditional business model, artists might spend years - even decades - building a name for themselves so they can command a good price for their works. CJ has achieved that in just two years."

Dr Wrigley credits the deliberate and strategic branding efforts of Ms Hendry and her manager Bill Tikos through a single digital channel - Instagram - for her commercial success.

Ms Hendry draws only black-and-white, hyper-realistic sketches of products and objects, documenting her progress and finished products though her Instagram account. When interviewed by media she dresses in black and white.

She interacts with her almost 200,000 followers on Instagram, seeking feedback on works in progress and suggestions on which objects to draw.

All works are sold only through her Instagram account - usually as soon as, or even before, she has posted them.

"Through this strategy of using a singular digital channel, CJ has connected emotionally to her audience, carefully designing the experience to bring the audience along the journey with her, from conception to curation," Dr Wrigley said.

"CJ has effectively changed the purpose of Instagram into a platform that allows her audience to discover, curate, share and buy her artwork via a curated digital channel.

"She and Bill understand that both the luxury and art industries rely on concepts such scarcity, exclusivity and opaqueness to generate success.

"They understand CJ's customers and what values drive them to purchase luxury products. They've applied that same approach to the product delivery of her art."

CJ Hendry gave herself one year to build a business from drawing and selling her works, which she sketches from photographs using only scribbles.

Six months later she sold her first piece - a pair of RM Williams shows - for $10,000. Her works now command $50,000 each.

Ms Hendry's second exhibition, 50 Foods in 50 Days, opened on 27 March at a gourmet food store in Fitzroy, Melbourne. All works involved have already being sold via Instagram.

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Media contact
Kate Haggman, QUT Media, 07 3138 0358, kate.haggman@qut.edu.au
After hours Rose Trapnell, QUT Media team leader, 0407 585 901.

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