Lance Crayon was born with a colorful name. By day a video producer for state media, Crayon filmed graffiti artists at work to create his first documentary, Spray Paint Beijing. He talked to the Beijinger about Beijing's spray-paint sub-culture.
Do you have an interest in graffiti or were you drawn to the subject cinematically? Are you handy with a can of spray paint?
I found graffiti by accident when I was making videos for China Radio International. I went to cover an urban art show when the new SOHO Sanlitun buildings opened and there were many graffiti writers painting the walls in the parking garage there. I met a few of the artists and asked if I could film them in action at some point and they said yes. The project slowly grew from there. I had also recently bought a video camera so I was searching for a documentary I could make on my own. In the US I always liked graffiti but knew nothing about it. As for me, I am not handy whatsoever with spray paint or any other kinds of paint.
Is graffiti illegal in Beijing? What are the penalties if one gets caught?
Graffiti is technically illegal in Beijing, but it exists in a gray area like many other things. As long as the artists do not paint on government buildings, subway trains, temples and businesses, they won't get into too much trouble. If and when they do get caught they're usually hit with a small fine or told to paint over their work.
What was your biggest surprise during the making of the film?
While filming I was surprised how the artists could paint during the day or early in the evening and nobody would try to stop them, or beat them up or even call the cops. There's no way I could have made this documentary in the US or Europe. Overall, the Chinese do not know what graffiti is, so they like it in a way and it's extremely open here. Graffiti isn't vilified in China the way it is in most parts of the world.
You've said "I think graffiti in China will dominate the international graffiti scene in years to come." Why?
Mainly because it's safe and open. The freedom to engage in graffiti here is far greater than any other country I know of. It's very dangerous to paint in the US, Europe and South America, and the types of dangers that exist in those countries for graffiti writers do not exist in China.
Is there one part of the city that's like a gallery for graffiti, or do people just need to look carefully as they move around?
Jing Mi Lu, just around the corner from 798, is Beijing's graffiti Hall of Fame. It's probably the biggest graffiti wall in China and stretches for about two kilometers. Foreign and Chinese graffiti writers from all over have painted there. Three years ago the wall was nothing but a dirty slab of brown concrete, now it's a popular destination for music video and commercial directors who want to use it as a backdrop because the graffiti there is stunning. The wall has served as a great example of how graffiti can improve a city and add to its beauty.
See "Spray Paint Beijing" Saturday, February 1 at 6pm at Meridian Space.
Photo: Courtesy of G-Dot Art Space
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