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Writing's on the wall

By Jonny Clement Brown  (Global Times)

13:49, November 13, 2012

Graffiti on walls at the 798 Art Zone. Chinese graffiti artists have embraced Western influences, although this trend could change in the future. (Photo: Jonny Clement Brown/GT)

"It's the only graffiti store in Beijing," graffiti artist Chen Chuang, 26, proudly declares as he gestures toward the columns of spray paint cans behind the counter of his new shop 400ml in the 798 Art Zone. The shop's opening, hosted by Beijing graffiti crew ABS late last month, was well attended by artists and city hipsters alike, and comes at a crucial juncture amid the ongoing development of graffiti culture in Beijing.

Chen, whose tag - or spray-painted signature - "ANDC," is optimistic about the future of graffiti in the capital. "Things will improve after 10 years. We still have a long way to go before we can make graffiti as popular as it is in the West. What we Chinese writers are doing now is what was perhaps happening in the West decades ago," he told Metro Beijing.

Graffiti artists, or "writers" as many prefer to be called, have a hard time in many international cities shaking their stigma of being more than vandals. Their situation in China is no different, although there is a greater level of tolerance, or perhaps ignorance, shown to them from authorities and the public.

Graffiti is largely discouraged on the surface, but underground there is growing support and camaraderie among the small scene of local artists made up of Chinese and foreigners, said Chen. "I just want to make [400ml] a place for graffiti writers in Beijing to get together, so that it's easier for them to buy spray paint," Chen said.

For the ABS crew, the advent of 400ml could offer a positive influence on younger graffiti artists aspiring to literally make their mark on Beijing's graffiti scene.

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