Bounce elevates graffiti to mainstream art

By Jake Chung  /  Staff writer, with CNA

Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - Page 5

From starting out as a spray-painter skulking about in alleyways, a graffiti artist known as “Bounce” has brought graffiti into the halls of mainstream art — a move which the Taiwanese artist claims is both challenging the endless possibilities of the form itself, as well as shaping his feeling of self-worth.

Born in 1982, Bounce said he has loved art since he was young, and had entered the Fu Hsin Trade and Arts School, graduating as one of the top three students of his year, enabling him to enter Fu Jen Catholic University’s department of applied arts, a place where he said his artistic vision was broadened.

“I was able to learn the techniques and necessary skills in Fu Hsin, but it was rather standardized: Each student taken up to the same level,” said the artist, who wishes to be known only by his nickname.

Some of his college classmates told him that his work was too “rigid” and offered him advice on what to read to broaden his view, he said.

“At the time, their comments came as a pretty heavy blow to me, especially since I had always thought that they were better at talking than creating, but I had to admit that they knew more than I did,” Bounce said, adding that graffiti art and street culture came into his life as he began looking for what it was that he wanted to do.

“It was difficult to find anything in Taiwan relating to graffiti art so I focused instead on the origins of the art form,” Bounce said, adding that it took him the better part of his college life before he was able to find the knowledge he needed to start putting theory into practice.

Bounce said that one night in 2005, he finally made his move and walked out onto the street of Taipei with a can of spray paint, hoping to utilize all the theories he had studied as a base for his graffiti creations.

Bounce said his nickname was derived from the figure of a rabbit character that he created in 2005.

The rabbit, born blind and without front paws, was living in a quiet forest, using mainly his sense of hearing to learn about the world. One day, he heard a type of music that made him want to “bounce” and he decided to head to the city to find the alluring sound, Bounce said.

“I started out wanting to bring some color and a story to counter the dullness of the city,” Bounce added.

Although at that stage he was out doing graffiti all night and only returning home at 5am, skulking about in the city, having to hide or even run from police, he believed that every picture he spray-painted on the walls was art that could change the atmosphere of its surroundings.

“The media usually reports negatively on graffiti, saying that it is vandalism, but they overlook that graffiti also has its artistic qualities,” Bounce said.

Whenever he painted graffiti on walls without the owner’s consent, he felt he was respecting, not vandalizing, the environment as a whole, he said.

His fame has been growing steadily and last year he was invited to compile solo exhibitions in Geneva, Switzerland, and France.

Considering his growing fame, Bounce said he felt that he was now somewhat responsible for the development of graffiti art and street culture in Taiwan.

The National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts has made a collection of Bounce’s Bounce Girl series of works.

“In other countries, knowledge of the subculture and art of graffiti allow it to be tolerated, but in Taiwan we still lack the cultural standards or knowledge to accept graffiti,” Bounce said, adding that he felt it was his duty to elevate the artistic value of graffiti in Taiwan.

With this thought in mind, Bounce sought to bring graffiti art — which was usually relegated to the streets — to more renowned establishments such as the Art Taipei exposition, the Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art and the Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport.

“Artistic value trumps monetary value any day,” Bounce said, adding that he was attempting to create art that would be “truly priceless.”

Over the past two years, Bounce have begun to incorporate elements of Hakka culture into his graffiti, claiming that having brought in foreign elements to Taiwan, he was also reminded to look inward at his own culture.

“I am Hakka, but there is nothing around us that is decidedly Hakka. At most one’s exposure to the Hakka culture is to hear the language spoken, but our clothing and daily items have all been largely Westernized,” Bounce said.

He said that the Hakka elements in his creations expressed his heritage and sense of self, an emphatic statement to express his own culture.

As a warning to others seeking to emulate him, Bounce said that the path to artistic succes was not as easy as it looked, adding that financial pressure and family expectations were two things that an aspiring artist would have to deal with at some point in his or her career.

Coming from a single-parent family, Bounce said that despite gaining some renown in the graffiti field before completing his mandatory military service, it only took one word from his mother to make him feel somewhat responsible for the family and start making some money.

Bounce said he gave up creating art and got a job, for two years, adding that he wasted time in which he could be creating for a monthly salary of a mere NT$20,000.

Bounce said he eventually decided to talk about the situation with his mother.

Although his mother was still worried about him, she was understanding enough to allow him to pursue his dreams, he said.

He firmly believed in the tenet that once a person has proved himself of a certain value, money would soon follow.

“If everything one does is for the money, it’s a commodity, not art,” Bounce said.