dialogue: the graffiti art of 18K By Lyn Stuart
(formerly known as Zhang Dali)
If you have been in Beijing long enough to get in a taxi, then you have seen his work: profiles spray-painted on condemned buildings, freeway bridges and neglected walls all over the capital. These scrawled profiles of a human head are the work of 18K (aka AK47) - the artist formerly known as Zhang Dali. You wouldn't notice them in a Western city because the simple drawings would be quickly sprayed over with graffiti done by thousands of other layabouts, vandals, artists and political groups.
But Beijing has almost no graffiti and the heads compete for space only with notices telling you not to park in front of gates or dump garbage, advertisements for venereal disease remedies and the ubiquitous Chinese character - chai, indicating that the building is about to be demolished. In fact, many of 18K's tags are intentionally placed right next to "chai" characters. Not only is graffiti painted onto walls that will soon be rubble unlikely to stir the police into action, 18K also has artistic reasons for associating his heads with condemned structures: the work is an attempt to engage in a dialogue with Beijing, a city where buildings come down faster than they did in wartime Berlin and London.
18K was born in Heilongjiang 36 years ago and came to Beijing after middle school to attend the prestigious Central Academy of Art and Design. He majored in traditional Chinese ink-and-brush painting but soon began producing abstract works and experimenting with different materials. In the late 1980s, 18K was the first artist to move to the village near Yuanmingyuan that later became a thriving colony of artists and bohemians until it was closed by Beijing authorities in the early 1990s. In 1988, 18K was one of several artists featured in independent filmmaker Wu Wenguang's Bumming in Beijing (Liulang Beijing).
The film popularized the notion of the Chinese artist as liumang - a slightly dangerous type of hipster who exists on the fringe of normal society and is frowned on by Communist cultural czars. Like many young people involved in the arts, 18K left Beijing in 1989. He went to Italy where he spent six years living in different cities and working as an artist. On his return to Beijing in 1993 he conceived of his long running graffiti project which he entitles Dialogue because the intention is that the graffiti along with photographs and articles that document and criticize it will together comprise a dialogue about the changing face of BeijingRead the entire article hereSource: