Chamnan Darapong, a talented graffiti artist with a decade of experience, is hoping to inspire others and reshape the perception of graffiti as a means of positive transformation in public spaces.
Also known as Keven, his fascination with graffiti began in 2009 when he was studying in the 8th grade and started experimenting on paper. However, it was not until 2012 that he discovered what the artform actually is when he came across it online.
Since then, Keven has consistently sharpened his skills to become a professional graffiti artist and uses his art to inspire others. As part of his mission, he started to get involved in the graffiti scene in Cambodia, engage with the community, and share his unique artistic perspective.
Graffiti is a form of street art that involves writing or drawing on public surfaces, especially walls, often without permission. It can range from simple words to intricate wall paintings, serving as a means of territorial marking and self-expression.
Keven said that for decades, Cambodians have had a negative perception of graffiti, often associating it with gangs. However, he added that this perception is beginning to change, with a few Cambodians now aware of the positive impact that graffiti can have in public spaces.
He added that Cambodians are becoming more open-minded and accepting of different forms of art. This is evident in the fact that they are beginning to allow graffiti artists to paint walls to make them more colorful and visually appealing.
“Graffiti can transform a worthless wall into a work of art, and Graffiti is rarely sprayed on good walls. It is usually made on empty walls and abandoned places." Keven said.
He added that graffiti and street art share similarities, but there are distinct differences between the two. Street art encompasses various artforms displayed in public spaces, including graffiti, murals, and sculptures.
Moreover, graffiti focuses on self-expression and identity, while street art often communicates messages and statements. Despite their dissimilarities, street art and graffiti can work together to create a more vibrant and interesting public space.
Graffiti can add a sense of creativity and energy to a neighborhood, while street art can provide a more thoughtful and meaningful experience. Thus, street art and graffiti can transform a public space into a work of art.
Keven said being a graffiti artist has not been without hurdles. The availability and affordability of imported spray paint remain significant challenges and presently remains a high cost. Additionally, the physical demands of graffiti, including the need for endurance while painting large-scale walls and weather considerations, contribute to the complexity of the artform.
“Graffiti artists often have to stand and walk for long periods of time to paint a mural. The size of the wall, the weather, and the cost of the spray paint can all affect the amount of time it takes to complete a project.”
Keven added that the graffiti industry is not as market-driven as other industries. Instead, it relies on word-of-mouth and relationships between artists. He focuses on building relationships with other artists and businesses in the industry.
He also has a team of artists working with him, called P-Gallery, who can help him with large projects. The amount of money he earns from a project depends on its size and complexity.
"We don't do it for the money. We do it for the value, prestige, and credit of our work. The value is in the size of our work, and the cost of that skillful work is our time and our passion," Keven told Kiripost.
Creating a graffiti masterpiece requires planning and execution. Keven emphasizes the importance of font stretching, color selection, and purchasing suitable spray paint. Achieving perfection demands time, practice, and a profound understanding of the artform's nuances.
He said that it takes a lot of time and effort to create excellent graffiti. He explained that it is important to be patient and persistent and that the more you practice, the better you will become.
Keven also said that it is important to be creative and experiment with different techniques. He added that the best graffiti is often the most meaningful and that it can take a long time to create a piece.
Street art and graffiti are now being used in restaurants, hubs, clubs, and other businesses to create a more attractive and inviting atmosphere for customers because street art and graffiti can add color, vibrancy, and personality to a space, which can help to create a more engaging and memorable experience for customers.
“It is important to start learning to love something, not just the feel. It requires us to practice and learn from the basics to all aspects. It takes time and effort to invest in something, but it is worth it in the end,” Keven said.
He added that the first painting is often different from the 1000th painting. This is because artists learn and grow as they practice. “The more we do something, the better we become at it,” he said.
Keven added, “The first time we do something, it is often not very good. This is because we are still learning and do not have much experience. However, the more we practice, the better we will become. This is true for anything, including art.
“If we want to improve our art, we need to start practicing. We can start by practicing on paper. Once we have a good understanding of the basics, we can move on to practicing on walls. We can start with small-scale pieces and then move on to medium- and large-scale pieces.”
Keven said starting slowly is better than not starting at all. He advised, “Practicing by making small scratches on paper will not get you very far. Art requires action, and without action, nothing will improve.
“Next, you can practice on walls in small-, medium-, and large-scale. The more dedicated you are to your work, the more people will be interested in paying for it. If you do not show your work, there will be no market for it.
“The more we practice, the better our art will become. The better our art becomes, the more people will be interested in it. This means that others will be able to pay for our work.”
Keven continued that art is valuable to artists because it is a form of self-expression. Every painting tells a story, and artists pour their compassion and soul into their work.
Some artists create unique pieces for their clients, while others produce more commercial work. The price of a painting can vary depending on the artist's reputation, the materials used, and the amount of time and effort that went into creating it.
While graffiti remains relatively new in Cambodia, the field is gradually gaining traction. Keven acknowledges that there are currently a limited number of skilled graffiti artists in the country. However, he believes that by encouraging more individuals to learn and embrace graffiti, this will change.
He believes that the artform's popularity and recognition will continue to grow, but emphasized the need for long-term dedication, as skills are developed over time and dependent on market demands.