Do it yourself: Children paint in a class taught by Knee Jerk.
Viet Nam News
By Thiên Hương
Fine arts students and art lovers in the central city of Đà Nẵng are familiar with the work of British graffiti artist Knee Jerk (his preferred alias).
His vivid paintings adorn many of the city’s once-bare walls and his artistic creations decorate various buildings in the city’s downtown area.
Born in Essex in the United Kingdom, Knee Jerk has lived in Việt Nam for about five years and has decorated many walls, both for fun and for special purposes, during that time.
One sunny day, we found him working with local artists, decorating a long wall.
Paint sprayers cans in hand, some of the artists were busy sketching outlines from model paintings. Some used ladders to draw items higher on the wall. They were all lost in their art, oblivious to the heat of the sun.
“I’m an architecture student, so I like this kind of street art,” said Lê Văn Nguyên. “It’s like playing with colours. It shows off my personality. I feel relaxed while painting graffiti. All of my stress seems to fade.”
“Working with local artists is great fun because it’s good to have a mix of styles. They bring different ideas to the table,” said Knee Jerk. “It’s good to see that.”
Nguyễn Anh Tuấn, a street artist, noted that working with foreign artists like Knee Jerk had helped him learn new techniques and gain confidence.
A knee jerk is a reflex action that one does without thinking, so it is also a sort of commentary on his artistic style.
“I don’t really define my style,” he said. “I don’t think about it too much, and I just try to focus on painting and what I have to do that day. I try to relate to people by putting myself on the board. I just kind of float around, painting whatever I want, whenever I want.”
Knee Jerk has a rich collection of paintings featuring geometric shapes designed with a computer.
He also favours an abstract style, as seen in the painting of John Lennon he created with the help of his friend Yoyo.
“There is a hidden meaning in that piece, but I prefer to have people work it out themselves,” he said.
Knee Jerk has helped decorate the Vệt Nam–America Education Group’s English school in downtown Đà Nẵng.
“I just drew paintings to inspire the students,” Knee Jerk said of his colourful mottos, quotes and graffiti on the walls of the classes. “They contain positive messages and thoughts.”
Knee Jerk admitted that he prefers calm pastel colours and abstract shapes to hold people’s attention.
“I think it’s a good way to make the classroom come alive,” said Nguyễn Quyên, a teacher at the school. “It gives the students plenty of energy. We have also received a lot of good feedback from the other teachers.”
Hard work: Knee Jerk perfects graffiti. Facebook photos of Not Pop Tattoo and Arts Studio
Knee Jerk also decorated the 1812 Boutique Hotel in Sơn Trà District.
Subtle shapes in different colours were used to create a pleasant image for guests at the entrance of the hotel.
“I think this artwork is suitable for our guests,” said Alex Phan, owner of the 1812 Boutique Hotel. “His style is actually very modern. My guests love it as it is lovely and relaxing.”
Knee Jerk also offers a special art tour for foreign tourists in the city, acting as the tour guide.
“I like to show people the street art around here. I like people who are interested in art,” he said. “The street art scene here is growing very fast. Many people will come... many tourists will come to paint here. Young kids growing up in Đà Nẵng come and paint here.”
A western tourist taking Knee Jerk’s tour noted that the graffiti seen here reflected a heavy combination of eastern and western influences, just like the painters themselves.
“It’s not just as if Vietnamese guys were trying to paint in a western style. They are really coming out. They are really showing off their culture to the world.
“Looking at it, I see possibilities, the youth in this country, their aspirations, the desire to make everything better,” he said. “It’s blended with western guys doing their thing. It creates a great cross-culture.”
Noting the diversity in graffiti by western and Vietnamese artists, Knee Jerk said different ideas led to great diversity.
“Everyone is unique; everyone has his own style,” he added.
Besides working with adult artists, Knee Jerk also runs courses for local and foreign children living in the area.
“They are very young and full of ideas,” he said. “They inspire me, and I inspire them.” — VNS