Chengdu native Sack, 21, got his first glimpse of graffiti in an American skateboarding magazine. Since then he's become one of a handful of active artists in Chengdu's very small graffiti community. Starting out by spraying illegally, he eventually obtained commercial engagements and even government sponsorship. He currently studies applied visual arts in France.
Why do you graffiti?
I want to express myself. There are many ideas in my head, so I have to find a way to show my ideas to people. With some of my graffiti I want to show Chengdu's culture—Chengdu-related characters, the culture in the city and life. Topics like tea, hotpot and majiang, that's the real life in Chengdu. Graffiti is facing all the people. I want the graffiti culture here to develop, so the most important thing is that people understand what you are painting. So you paint their life—this is what they can understand, [and so it's] what you want to show or explain.
I studied all kinds of painting styles. But I think graffiti is the best way to show my work to the broad public. I think that art should involve everyone and form a kind of communication. I don't want to paint at home and nobody sees it. If I do the same outside, everyone has the chance to appreciate the art. I do it in public, so people don't have to go to some gallery exhibition.
How is graffiti viewed in China?
It's very new in China. Maybe in China it's not a real culture. And in the government's eyes, yes, graffiti is a crime. The government doesn't want to promote it. [Westerners] see graffiti as a kind of art. But the Chinese society so far wouldn't include graffiti as an art. Around four-and-a-half years ago we sprayed illegally.
We picked a week and went out every night. We chose "Journey to the West," a Chinese topic, but it's still illegal. We did that many times, we used our own money, but as soon as we would finish, the government would clean it up immediately after. The newspaper would discuss it, "Graffiti: Art or Rubbish?" They always do it like this. But we keep doing graffiti. Of course, my skills developed, and more and people start to understand what is graffiti. It's developing, and there are many ways to show graffiti, in design or on canvas. But China needs to include graffiti in its spectrum of respected arts.
How do you meet other graffiti artists?
It's a bit hard. There is a Chinese BBS. When I went to France I saw a lot of tags all over. But I don't know who did it, where to find the cans. So I asked another Chinese friend of mine who studies in Australia; he told me to search on Myspace and Photologo and I found a place where it's legal to spray.
As I'm a foreigner there it's important to me. I don't want to spray illegally there. Sometimes I paint alone, others came over and look at it, and started to ask me questions. So we started painting together and my works get better and better. That's very important.
Do you also do commercial work?
Yes, I can do different styles, I can paint characters, letters and photo-realistic. I try many styles, that's better for me to earn money. But actually I prefer to do characters. [Employers find me] through the net. They can search for "Chengdu graffiti."
What do your parents think about your doing graffiti?
At the beginning my parents of course didn't support my doings. You paint at night and you have to go to school at 7 o'clock in the morning. You finish painting at 3 a.m. They were also concerned that I might be caught by the police. Chinese parents think to be caught by the police is a very terrible thing. But as I continued I improved, and they could see what I do and thought it would be really beautiful. Maybe they think it's an art: "Maybe my son is not right, but not bad." Now I paint, I made a lot of foreign friends, and earn some money through graffiti, so they think, OK, no problem.
Which city is China's graffiti capital?
Hard to say. Hong Kong and Taipei are big, on the mainland Guangzhou and Shenzhen are coming.
How many people do graffiti in Chengdu?
Maybe 20. It's a big difference to Toulouse, [France], where the young guys all like street culture . It's a way to show himself in public, to show to the girls, "Look, I'm cool." The others [in Chengdu] graduate from school, go to companies, and work. If they want to marry a girl they have to work harder and harder to make a living. In Chengdu you finish a character, nobody would know who did it. They look at it, but nobody cares.