Last year, Sean Leow took my Street Art tour of San Francisco’s Mission District. He knew a good bit about art in the streets and eventually asked me “do you know about any stencils and graffiti in China?” My answer was no. I believed that it existed and was not that well known due to language barriers (as well as accessing evidence of a sometimes illegal art inside a tightly-controlled country like China). Leow not only knew about street art and graffiti from that part of the planet, he also was part of a group of people who were creating content for the site Neocha Edge, based in Shanghai. He gave me links and jpgs of art from China, Taiwan, and other parts of Asia. I eventually posted them up in the Asia Archive, and was happy to have two artists, Brother and ROBBBB, get their own artist archives.
I am happy to know that there are stencil artists getting up in China. When I wrote “Stencil Nation,” I attempted to include parts of Asia in the content. I was fortunate enough to find a few photographers via Flickr who had traveled to Taiwan and Japan and snapped up some stencil photos. Back in 2008, Asia seemed to be a blank spot in the Stencil Archive geography. There were no books, and artists like Logan Hicks were just starting to travel there with stencil art. I knew it had to be there, and, like the rest of the world, street art and graffiti has blossomed in all cracks and corners of the globe. Including Taibei and Beijing.
(Stencil by ROBBBB, Beijing)
During our most recent email exchange, ROBBBB wished that the English-speaking world could find out more about stencils in China. So I asked him some questions and he was glad to answer them. I have cleaned up the grammar of ROBBBB’s answers, but have tried to keep the spirit and intent of his answers intact. I look forward to seeing more mu-ban art and graffiti from China. Keep an eye out for new works by ROBBBB, along with other folks who cut the negative space.
Stencil Archive: How do you say “stencil” in your dialect?
ROBBBB: We call stencils “模板”. To pronounce it, it is spelled “mu-ban”.
Stencil Archive: My research shows that cut out art originated in China. Do you have any historical details about cut out art?
ROBBBB: Do you know the ”paper-cut for window decoration”?
Stencil Archive: No.
ROBBBB: “On the joyous New Year’s Day, a lot of people in this area stick various kinds of paper-cut – paper-cut for window decoration – in windows so that they can enjoy it. The paper-cut for window decoration not only sets off the joyous festive air; it also brings beautiful enjoyment to people by incorporating decorating, appreciation, and an ease-of-use into an organic whole. The paper-cut is a kind of well popularized folk art, well received by people through the ages. Because it is mostly stuck on the window, people generally call it “the paper-cut for window decoration”.
Paper-cut for window decoration is abundant in content, and the subject matter is extensive. Because buyers of the paper-cut for window decoration are mostly peasants, the paper-cut for window decoration has suitable contents that display a peasant’s life, such as farming, textile-making, fishing, shepherding, feeding pigs, raising chickens, etc. Paper-cut for window decoration covers other subject matter as well, such as mythical legends, opera stories, etc. In addition, images such as birds, flowers, worms, fish, the 12 years of birth, etc. are also common.
With the popularization and specific nature of the paper-cut for window decoration on New Year’s Day, the folk art flourishes and enriches many people’s lives, causing them to seethe with joy.
(MORE on this art form.)
Stencil Archive: When did you first hear about stencil and street art? How did you find out about this mostly Euro/American urban art form?
ROBBBB: I went to Venice and Prague a year ago, and found a lot of European street art and stencil graffiti. I loved the art so much, so when I returned to Beijing, I tried to make my own street art.
Stencil Archive: Has there always been stencil and graffiti art in the streets of Beijing? If not, when did you first start seeing it in the streets?
ROBBBB: Beijing has only recently started to have art in the streets. When I came back from Europe, I started to pay attention to Beijing’s street art and stencil graffiti. I first saw stencil graffiti in Beijing’s 798 Art Zone (mostly done by foreigners). The 798 Art Zone has a lot of street art, New York-style graffiti and stencil graffiti.
Stencil Archive: What reactions do you get from your street art? Are opinions changing about street art in Beijing?
ROBBBB: My street art works mainly reflect the social phenomena and social problems of today’s China. Some art also involves a sympathy towards the human condition. There are a number of works about humor and Chinese culture. In the future, I hope that Beijing has more people to participate in the creation of the street art and stencil graffiti.
Stencil Archive: Do you know other Chinese street and stencil artists? Who has painted in the streets the longest?
ROBBBB: Shanghai has a graffiti team named “2 face” that is mainly engaged in stencil graffiti. I think they have been painting stencils in the streets the longest.
Stencil Archive: How illegal or dangerous is doing graffiti in China?
ROBBBB: China has no laws against graffiti. Spraying in the streets does have a certain risk, because the police see tube.
Stencil Archive: What do you mean by “tube”?
ROBBBB: The police may consider graffiti as being architectural vandalism. In fact, foreign management more than the Chinese pine about graffiti.
Stencil Archive: Are there galleries that show street art and graffiti? If yes, name a few.
ROBBBB: Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taiwan should have galleries, but I don’t know the names of any of them.
Stencil Archive: Where can we find some photos online?
ROBBBB: My friend has a new Chinese street art site, but there is not that much content. All the street artists are Chinese.
Stencil Archive: Modern stencils and street art come from the punk and skate board culture. Is there a punk and skating scene in Beijing?
ROBBBB: Beijing has a lot of skateboarding riders and underground bands, but Beijing’s stencil graffiti is not a big part of those scenes. About 8 years ago, I began to like street culture, such as the street basketball, c walk, and skateboarding.
Stencil Archive: What is c walk?
ROBBBB: C walk is a hip-hop dance. It is called crip walk, but we usually shorten it to c walk.
Stencil Archive: Ah. What is Beijing’s hip-hop culture like?
ROBBBB: Beijing has a nice hip-hop cultural atmosphere. There are a lot of MCs and hip-hop dancers. I think Beijing street culture is progressing quickly, because many young people love to dance and MC.
Stencil Archive: What other subcultures are there?
ROBBBB: Two years ago I started to ride a fixed gear bike.
Stencil Archive: Hope there aren’t many hills in Beijing like there are here. This does not stop people from riding fixies here in San Francisco!
ROBBBB: LOL. Fixed gear is a very exciting past time. I look forward to riding the hills in San Francisco!
Stencil Archive: If I came to China to look for stencils and street art, where should I go? Are there any Beijing alleys that are popular to paint in?
ROBBBB: In Beijing, go to the 798 Art Zone (MORE on 798 Art Zone).
Stencil Archive: Are there any books about Chinese stencils and street art?
ROBBBB: I read a book called” “涂鸦”, which has good information about European street art and stencil graffiti. “涂鸦” translates as graffiti.
Stencil Archive: Do you have any artists that have influenced your work?
ROBBBB: Blek le Rat and Shepard Fairey.
Stencil Archive: What kind of spray paint do you use? What do you cut your stencils out of?
ROBBBB: I spray with IRONLAK and I make stencils similar to Banksy’s methods.
Stencil Archive: Anything else you would like to offer up to the Stencil Archive community?
ROBBBB: I hope foreigners pay more attention to Beijing’s street art… and me, LOL