Dongguan From the Underground: Art Is Hard

Dave L.

Dave L.

Humans have been expressing themselves with paint for at least thousands of years with no end in sight. Nowadays, artists have migrated from cramped, darkened caves to the urban sprawl, where uninspired buildings stand as oppressive as the evils empires, themselves. Back in the day, things were different.

“This generation now uses the Internet to get all their ideas and knowledge. It’s much less interactive and positive. I grew up in a scene where writers would have a black book to sketch ideas before even thinking about touching a wall. You’d have to go around the city to find art,” said Dave L., a Canadian graffiti artist living in Dongguan.

In modern China, graffiti has largely come to be appreciated as a form of public art that often purely showcases more free and positive expression.

Betta (夏奕天)

Betta (夏奕天)

“People might have once called it vandalism, now most consider it art. The government is even offering more and more support,” said Betta (夏奕天), owner of RGB Studio (红砖国际).

Even with the spiritual and financial support coming from higher powers, these like-minded individuals have fostered a small, but close-knit community.

“In all of China, it’s still a niche culture with probably around 3,000 active artists. In Dongguan, there are maybe 30,” Summer further explained.

Despite the numbers, the group seems to be thriving with work going up all over—from back alleys to impressive promotional events.

“Compared to the end of 2009 and now, it’s another world. There are now plenty of kids feeling the hip hop scene. This place has tons of potential as it leaves the factories behind and becomes more cosmopolitan. It’s cool to see,” added Dave.

Thanks to increasing levels imported culture coming from the West, perspectives have changed. A society that once decimated and forewent cultural development in favor of enrichment is catching up fast.

Gary (赖国伟)

Gary (赖国伟)

“When dancing in university, I met a group of friends who were also interested in hip hop. I see four elements in this culture: dancing, rapping, DJ and graffiti. I feel like only graffiti is still in a gray area because people think the paint ruins public buildings,” said Gary (赖国伟), one of the founders of Bold Art Workshop.

This developmental period of the form is normal, even exciting. It’s a sign that new things are coming. Perhaps even work that has never before been seen in Dongguan.

“I once saw a 12-color piece in Guancheng, which I thought was done by this famous writer named Revok. I was super confused what he would be doing in DG. Eventually, it turned out that it was a local writer imitating his style. Hopefully, that talented guy has found his own style of letters by now,” added Dave.

Undoubtedly, the more people are exposed and able to actually try creating themselves, the further the form will spread. There, exhilaration, emotion and a sense of pride will all wind into a colorful, inspiring piece of art.

“My first painting was so exciting. I exhausted my index finger, but I wanted to keep going, so I used other fingers to finish. I felt like I gave birth to something completely new,” told Summer enthusiastically.