XEME on Graffiti and Hong Kong living
by Andrea Juanillo·
After a long time, we caught up with a good friend and one of Asia's most widely respected graffiti artists, XEME.
From alleyways and overpasses to the walls of Hong Kong apartment blocks, one could easily recognize XEME pieces all over the city’s urban landscape. With signature intricate geometrical patterns, Chinese calligraphy characters, he's become one of the finest artists who can mix the more traditional styles of Asian art with a strong contemporary flourish.
Xeme started painting graffiti in 2001 when both street art and graffiti barely existed in any of the Asian mega cities. He quickly became widely recognised as one of most renowned street artists in the region and it wasn't long before he founded urban culture and arts magazine Invasian.
Xeme also happen to feature in our very own book and dvd combo, Graffiti Asia and since then, we've filmed him and managed to work together on a few commercial projects.
It has been years since we all worked together on Graffiti Asia, how has graffiti culture changed in Hong Kong and how has the political situation affected things?
Yeah, thanks for reaching out again man, appreciate it. On the graffiti side, apparently it hasn't been much of a difference population wise. A few new guys joined, a few also quitted. Still low in numbers...but i've been thinking over this (political) situation. I think "political" graffiti has obviously arisen. Protesters or anti-government people have definitely used the street as a medium to express their views. In our art/letter based graffiti, I think it's (still) more or less the same. Because at the end of the day, there aren't that many people doing it anyways.
How has Asian urban culture grown and changed over the years?
Like a lot of the other cultures around the world, the internet took its importance connecting and sharing people's work. I felt like whether it was Asian street culture or other local culture, it's easier to reach out to the world and it's getting there. Look at rappers or artists in Asia, they are able to appeal to the world stage now instead of in their local city.
What is the most difficult part of being an independent artist?
I think "to eat" is something major. Some of the artists I know struggle to eat, pay their rents etc, and they end up working for stuff they don't really like but have to spend most of their time in. Normally they'll get tired after work and start to loose passion in painting. I would always consider art/graffiti my hobby, if i made it as an artist that's dope, but if i don't I won't complain about it.
Do you remember the very first paid job you had?
That's actually a good question, I was always asked about my first piece, but never had this chance to think over this. I think i had my first job in exchange for 200 cans in 2007. It wasn't cash money but yeah it was still a decent amount of "payment". Cash money job would be around the same time, but I can't really remember what it was. You know you'll always have a homie or a "homie's homie" asking for a favour and they give you some cash for paint. I'd assume it'll be something like that.
What kinds of commissions do you currently offer and what do you do to keep the work coming in?
I post most of my works on Instagram, so normally clients would go through that and tell me what they like. And normally those are the things that I'm good at and enjoyable to do. If all of a sudden someone wants me to paint a pizza or french fries, I'll do it if the money is good but there's no soul in it and that's neither the thing I'm good at. I never forced myself to deliver, so I have mad pleasure and passion doing it. It's just like playing basketball. I love it so much but i'll do it whenever I can with my whole heart.
Is there anything that you want to share with other artists?
I think it's boring to say it, but be yourself. Worry less about what people think when it comes to art. Let your work appeal to the crowd instead of doing works just to appeal people. If people don't like it, so be it, at least you're happy while doing it.u.
Thanks SRK for having me, it's time for Graffiti Asia #2 Cheaaah.