Chanyang Shim, who became known for a graffi ti artwork depicting an African American wearing a Hanbok
A Korean hip-hop artist made global fame with a graffi ti art piece depicting an African American female wearing a hanbok. The artwork was praised for making a peace offering for the world culturally divided into the Western and the Eastern culture. The graffi ti artist’s name is Chanyang Shim(31), and he set himself up as working in the African American beauty industry. He was given a global spotlight for his graffi ti works illustrating African American models during his short visit to the U.S. with little plan. In the beginning of his graffi ti career, he barely made a living, but now he is extremely busy due to the flood of artwork requests. BNB made it through his busy schedules for an interview about his past, present, and future plans.
How many artworks did you create in America?
Well… I think I have done about ten pieces of a large size. I left them in LA, Chicago, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Lansing, and Indiana, among others. Graffiti artists often create works for an event, so we end up leaving artworks in variety of places.
Do some of them get semi-permanently preserved?
As many of them are for an event, they would be covered with another work for a next event. The piece featuring a girl with a black hanbok, called “Flower came out,” was replaced with another art piece about a year and a half ago. There are so many artists working in the field. I am only grateful that they kept the piece for so long. As the paint deteriorates over the years on the exterior wall, it only takes three to four years for a drawing to vanish. Considering all, my drawing was preserved for a very long time. When artworks were commissioned by individuals, the owners would try to preserve them permanently.
Are there aesthetics unique to African Americans?
In the movie, Moonlight, the protagonist says African Americans shine in various colors under moonlight. Although African American skin color is simply dark in a cursory glance, if you look really into it, you will find purple, green, yellow, and blue, among many other colors, depending on lighting. The skin color of African Americans is truly a mixture of various colors commingled together harmoniously. It is never just black. When I draw a face of an African American, I use purple, blue, yellow, and other colors to express the skin color of his or her face. It just receives all the colors very well and brings about liveliness as well. You can say the skin color of an African American encompasses every color.
Hanbok looks good on African Americans. What could be the reason?
If you look at the piece “Flower came out,” you would notice that the cornrow hair of the African American girl looks very similar to the traditional hairstyle of Korean women wearing a hair stick. I purposefully drew the specific hairstyle that seemed familiar to both cultures. Although many other artistic expressions were also purposeful, you can easily find a mixture of colors in African accessories and clothes that resemble the colors of hanbok. I think they really are a great fit for each other.
What would be your top three favorite artworks?
I once drew a piece based on a Korean individual. The model was my girlfriend at the time, and she became my wife. I remember that piece as a string that binds me and my wife. Another one was drawn in LA. The artwork contained African American, Korean, and Caucasian individuals in a piece. The owner of that piece was very proud of that artwork. I drew the piece with a thought that we should live harmoniously together. Thirdly, I had a piece exhibited in the Blue House. It was motivated by said artwork in LA. Three half-blooded Korean kids with African American, Caucasian, and Mexican parents were featured. I wanted to show that hanbok went well with everyone and to say “we are all equally Koreans.” I tend to have more affection for works that effectively convey my messages underneath the artistic expressions.
Are all artworks of yours commissioned now?
When the size of graffiti artwork is above a certain limit, it becomes impossible to draw without authorization. You have to be lifted up in the air for a long time working on the piece. Now I cannot draw without authorization and run away. It was even more impractical for me after I gained some reputation.
You are living in LA now? I thought you lived in Korea.
I used to fly to the U.S. for artwork about three times a year. As I frequently visited America, I thought it would be better to just stay here all the time with an artist visa. After the visa was issued, I got married and established our newlywed home in America instead of Korea as the expenses of housing was comparable. It would make working in the U.S. much easier. Although living in the U.S. cost more than living in South Korea and adjusting to a new environment was tough, I wanted to take the challenge to see how far I can fly. It has been eight months now, and we are still adjusting.
You are sort of in the same industry as we work with African American…
I think everyone who works in the beauty supply industry and I do basically the same thing – enhancing African American images. I heard that many beauty supply owners actually gave back some of their profits to African American communities. I believe beauty supply stores run by Korean-Americans are the bridge between the two cultures, and I hope you guys work with dignity and pride in your work. I hope more of my artworks can be accepted as a peace offering so that two cultures can intermingle harmoniously.
Would you be willing to draw upon requests from Korean-run beauty supplies?
Of course, I would. If you have an exterior wall, I can definitely work on it. On the other hand, interior walls get crowded and can easily be filled with fumes of spray paints, so I tend to avoid them.
What’s your plan for the future?
I want to keep looking for opportunities in Africa. I have a scheduled visit to Africa in three months. In America, I want to get more recognition by collaborating with American artists. I want to become a well-recognized artist in America and collaborate with other artists like pop singers here in California.