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Cj Hendry Is an Instagram Hit. But Can She Woo the Art World?


Her hyper-realist drawings leave viewers in awe, but she’s hoping a solo exhibition and an artistic shift will bring her closer to art-world acceptance.

Let’s say you’re scrolling through Instagram. That tantalizing green salad? You’ll fly by it. Ditto the photo of the mysterious-looking woman on the beach or that candid shot of a friend of a friend. Oh, and look — a puppy.

Then your thumb stops, mid-scroll, on a work by Cj Hendry. The image has left you dumbfounded: Her pencil and pen sketches are so meticulously detailed they look like photographs.

“This is a pencil drawing can you believe?” one of her Instagram followers wrote.

Another commented: “Holy moly! Bloody awesome!”

Ms. Hendry, 31, is what you might call an Instagram artist — someone who started on, and thrived because of, the platform we so love to hate and hate to love. You won’t find her collection in a gallery. Instead, she hosts her own solo exhibitions, and regularly sells out her works, which have price tags as high as $250,000. It’s an example of how an artist can survive — prosper — outside the established art world, thanks to social media.

On a platform flooded with ephemeral images, her uncanny drawings — with each ridge or fold or glossy surface commanding attention — are jaw-dropping, stop-and-stare-for-a-second mind tricks. “People still can’t get their heads around it,” Ms. Hendry said during a recent interview at her studio in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn.

Her technical skill is undeniable, yet her success can be attributed to her accessibility. On her Instagram account, she posts work-in-progress snippets, letting her followers in on her journey — a bit of a novelty in the art industry.

“It’s almost like you have deeper knowledge of these pieces when you buy them than you would if you just bought something from a gallery,” said Ben Kaufman, chief marketing officer at BuzzFeed, who discovered Ms. Hendry on Instagram and owns two of her drawings. “You can kind of watch them take shape through her Stories and through her posts.”

She goes a step farther with her shows, weaving all those elements together to create immersive installations. For her latest, “Rorschach,” opening on April 10 in Dumbo, Brooklyn, she has created a bounce house designed to look like the inside of a mental hospital. (It has white padded walls.)

“It’s not just really her art, it’s how she creates this multifaceted approach that layers outside disciplines and tactics together,” said Rachel Shechtman, founder of the New York City retail concept store, Story, which changes offerings every month based on a theme.

Ms. Hendry’s improbable path started in November 2012 when she posted her first drawing on Instagram. At the time, she had dropped out of architecture school in Brisbane, Australia, where she grew up, and was struggling to make it through the fifth year of a three-year finance degree program. So she turned to art.


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