▲ Shim “Royal Dog” Chanyang. Photographed by Kim Seung Hyun.
About Shim Chanyang: Shim Chanyang, better known as his artist tag Royal Dog, is a Korean graffiti artist currently based in Los Angeles. Shim was studying in the Philippines for a Pastoral Studies degree when in 2006, he began pursuing graffiti as a career. Most of his 11 active years were spent in relative anonymity until 2016, when his works began garnering attention. Now, in 2017, Royal Dog is a famous name in the streets of LA, capturing both beauty and message while showering the streets in color.
On the outskirts of a gentrified American suburb lies a parade of dull streets and grey walls. They are without life or color, and the monotonous tone of concrete jabs at the eyes as far as they can see—all but one. On it is an artwork of graffiti—not brazen but flowing in elegant charm. It is an image of a black woman in a Korean traditional dress, caressed by flowers and grace, painted by the graffiti artist Shim Chanyang.
What motivated you to become a graffiti artist?
To begin with, I studied at an Arts High School. I loved and respected hip-hop culture since I was young, and when I first encountered graffiti as a high school senior, I found it very appealing. One day, I simply thought, “I really want to do this.” It was a sudden decision. In April 2006, I picked up graffiti because I wanted to impress someone; because I thought graffiti was cool. Since then, for 11 years, I have been painting graffiti.
What do you believe is the most integral part of being a graffiti artist?
Some people view graffiti as paintings or as murals, but I strongly believe in viewing graffiti as a part of hip-hop. While art skills can affect one’s prospects, I feel that one must love this aspect of graffiti. Also, graffiti is from the streets—not galleries, not schools, but the streets—and people have to understand that. They have to truly find graffiti as appealing. Not as a painting but for what it is, even its illicit origin as a form of vandalism. People who understand and respect this aspect of graffiti have what it takes to become an artist.
What does the process of planning and creating your artwork involve?
To live off your earnings as an artist, you have to paint what someone else wants you to paint. I do not enjoy that—I find it more attractive to do what I want, even if it means harder times. So instead of someone presenting me a theme and me creating something out of it, I always try to think of what I want to paint personally. When I encounter an appealing scene in a movie or spot an amazing photo, I take note. And when I face the wall and set out to paint, I pull the notes out and take inspiration from them. I often take notes on different types and looks of people, hanbok, fonts, messages, and many more.
▲ Shim Chanyang while painting. Provided by Black Beauty Magazine.
Are there any artists or other figures that influence your works?
Since I was young, I have loved Egon Schiele’s works. When I started graffiti, I began to admire the works of JNJ Crew and respect them as artists and people. Nowadays, I have found a liking for Tim Okamura and his artwork.
While you are working on your piece, you often look at your phone. Do you have a sketch or rough outline which you base your final piece on?
I usually have my own images or notes on people, clothes, hair, writings, and other subjects. I look at them separately and depending on which part of the piece I am working on. I almost always have my phone out when painting—if you look at it you can see all the paint on it. Sometimes I print the images since the screen can sometimes be too bright, but I still prefer using my phone.
To many readers, graffiti often has a satirical or sharp nature. What are your perspectives regarding this issue?
I do not believe graffiti must be accepted as an art form. I just wish it could be accepted for what it is, whatever it may be, since it is already appealing in that state. In fact, I believe part of graffiti’s appeal stems from such nature—its satirical, even aggressive nature against parts of society.
How developed is the graffiti scene in Korea?
To explain about the United States (U.S.) first, there is a graffiti scene in every town and neighborhood. It is very easy to meet a graffiti artist anywhere in the States. Also, there are a lot of older people who once did graffiti, and there isn’t as much of a social stigma against graffiti in the U.S. In fact, some of the older people still paint graffiti from time to time.
In Korea, however, most quit graffiti as they age, and the scene is not as large as the scene in the U.S. There are probably 20 professional graffiti artists in Korea—counting amateurs, the number may jump to 100. There are few walls and the paint is expensive, which further serve as barriers to entry. Still, there are winds of change happening here. As the barriers get lower, I hope that future artists can find it easier to paint graffiti than when I first began.
Do you have any final remarks for aspiring graffiti artists?
Not just graffiti but for anything, if you are passionate about something, just go where your heart leads you. Do what makes your heart race most. While some careers—like a graffiti artist—are more financially unstable than others, I believe that the answer will present itself when you do the things you love the most. If anyone wants to become a graffiti artist, I wish to tell them this; draw a lot. The difference between a painting and graffiti is simply the tools.