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Graf­fiti Work­shops For Kids And Adults

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IT’S HARD TO THINK OF GRAF­FITI WITH­OUT

the con­no­ta­tions of il­le­gal­ity. Tag­ging, which rose to promi­nence in the 90s, has al­ways been seen as an art form for youth and re­bel­lion. How­ever, now that it has sur­faced and gained in pop­u­lar­ity and promi­nence, classes and work­shops on the mat­ter are freely avail­able even to those who have no in­ten­tion of tak­ing the art form into the street, where it is at home.

Lee Wes­sels is one of the fore­run­ners in Ho Chi Minh City’s nascent graf­fiti scene. His work­shops were orig­i­nally aimed at school chil­dren as an af­ter-school ac­tiv­ity but, with ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity, they have started to in­clude adults and younger chil­dren as well. Graf­fiti, it seems, is well and healthy. Lee, a Dutch na­tional adopted from South Korea, is a long-stand­ing graf­fiti artist who mixes the forms he learned by run­ning around in the streets with the more ortho­dox, aca­demic teach­ings from art school. The pop­u­lar­ity of his works is such that he has been in­vited to dec­o­rate some of Ho Chi Minh City’s most rec­og­niz­able hotspots, in­clud­ing Indika, Out­cast, Piu Piu, the Saigon skate park and En-Dee Gar­den. In the two-and-a-half short years he has been here, he has cer­tainly al­ready left a mark.

The qual­ity of Saigon’s own graf­fiti scene, he says, is the fact that the com­mu­nity is sup­port­ive and de­void of the machismo found in other cities. The groups that he teaches are there to help each other and while there is a healthy spirit of com­pe­ti­tion, it is not so ag­gres­sive as to cow the in­ex­pe­ri­enced. Most of all it seems that those who want to get in­volved in graf­fiti want to spread a mes­sage of pos­i­tiv­ity.

The spirit of tag­ging in Saigon is less re­bel­lious than it is en­cour­ag­ing, hop­ing to find a way to beau­tify and color places that oth­er­wise would re­main visu­ally anony­mous.

Le­gal Graf­fiti

The ques­tion that most per­turbs me is whether graf­fiti can still be con­sid­ered graf­fiti once di­vorced from its back­ground of il­le­gal­ity. Un­der­ground art forms are stripped of that fash­ion­able ti­tle when they are given a main­stream spot­light and graf­fiti classes are cer­tainly a step in that di­rec­tion. The ori­gins of graf­fiti, more than many other art forms, seem to be steeped in the clan­des­tine. Lee con­sid­ers then tells me that the feel­ing be­hind the art may change, the re­bel­lion that made the il­le­gal­ity of the art form so at­trac­tive may dis­ap­pear in a class­room, but the tech­niques re­main the same. Whether your mo­ti­va­tions are to take the lessons and bring them back to a hid­den al­ley to mark your ter­ri­tory, or some­thing a lit­tle bit more pri­vate, the skills you can learn at Lee’s classes re­main equally use­ful.

The lessons cover dif­fer­ent forms of graf­fiti art: Solid Mu­rals (co-founded by Lukas Har­rer, www.face­book.com/

solid­mu­rals) fo­cuses on find­ing new ways to dec­o­rate sur­faces while Saigon Cre­ative English (co-founded by

Thomas Di­jkhuizen, www.face­book.com/

sce­viet­nam) of­fers cour­ses on writ­ing and fonts us­ing aerosol and sten­cilling tech­niques. From top to bot­tom and back to front, Lee’s classes can cover ev­ery­thing from be­gin­ners to more ad­vanced graf­fiti artists who want to hone their tal­ents or sim­ply find a group to share their pas­sion with.

To that end, shar­ing graf­fiti with ev­ery­one, Lee has re­cently opened classes in District 13, the first work­shop in Viet­nam to cover a full course in graf­fiti. In­cluded are classes on the his­tory of graf­fiti, graf­fiti tech­niques with aerosol and sten­cilling, de­sign tech­nique, 3D tech­niques and even cour­ses on how to de­sign your own themed mu­ral. The course is a com­plete crash course and 15 per­cent of the pro­ceeds go to char­ity, pur­chas­ing ma­te­ri­als needed to teach the same cour­ses free of charge for or­phan­ages and shel­ters. As an or­phan him­self, Lee ex­plains that he wants to give some­thing to those who went through the same hard­ships.

One of the great at­trac­tions of graf­fiti for Lee is the fact that it can bring beauty or a mes­sage to un­ex­pected places. Art is so of­ten con­fined to the gallery or to a web­site and peo­ple have to go to the bother of seek­ing it out. Graf­fiti is a public art form that can be dis­played to hun­dreds of peo­ple. While it may be un­fair to call the art pas­sive, there is a side to it that hopes to blend into the en­vi­ron­ment and to fit in or­gan­i­cally. In that sense, graf­fiti is equally at home as a largescale eye-catcher in the style of the Los An­ge­les street art that has be­come an in­stantly rec­og­niz­able char­ac­ter­is­tic of the city, as it is as a more sub­tle, down­played art form that lends beauty with­out be­ing in­va­sive.

For Lee, the graf­fiti scene in Saigon is only just start­ing. The city is youth­ful and dif­fer­ent art forms from mu­sic to dance to graf­fiti are start­ing to get a ded­i­cated fol­low­ing. It’s an ex­cit­ing time to be an artist in Saigon with so much in­no­va­tion un­der­way and Lee only sees its star ris­ing.

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