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Graff: Standing on business with UDON

“Playing cat and mouse while painting illegal spots is a dance for only the ones with the rhythm”

LiFTED | Marcus Aurelius | 10 Apr 2024

Graffiti artists, by nature, are creatures of the night. They hide. They duck. They creep. They run. They slide. But occasionally, certain artists pop their heads out from the underground just long enough to have a show.

UDON has been getting up since he knew what that meant. After 25 years of painting, the Bay Area transplant is having his debut exhibition in Taipei. Presented by Melting Part and LIGHTWELL,THE BYE PRODUCT, starting Saturday, April 13, will be going for two months. Featuring live performances, seminars, artist Q&As, art and merch sales, and pop-up collaborations with Taipei’s immediate cultural community, THE BYE PRODUCT shows a living picture of UDON, an artist, urban legend, and pioneer in the beautifully transient game of graffiti.

LiFTED caught up with UDON two days before THE BYE PRODUCT opens to learn a bit about his history, influences, creations, and aspirations.

What got you into graffiti in the first place?

Being born and raised in the Bay Area, California and seeing all the graffiti in the 90s was a huge influence. Hip Hop culture in general has been part of my life since birth since my older brothers were already into B-Boying and other parts of the culture.

Who are some of the artists that you respect the most? Why?

I respect the underdogs first and foremost. The ones I think the mainstream art world would overlook. ORFN [RIP] for his playful style and his pure dedication to the craft and to the street. Mike “DREAM” Francisco [RIP] for his amazing range of style of all aspects of graff and also his political/revolutionary commentary he inspired in the game. And Barry Mcgee [Twist] for his ability to paint faces and images while maintaining the street “throw up “ aesthetic. Not only is his graffiti amazing, but his contribution to the art world is truly inspiring.

Your character GHOSTFACE is all-city in Taipei and all-region in Asia. Give LiFTED readers a bit more history about the character. What does GHOSTFACE mean to you?

The Ghostface came about very early on in my time painting UDON. I used to paint a face in the letter “O” and around 2000 I tried to paint it as a character of its own. At first, I thought of this “ghost” as a self-portrait of sorts. Later I realized it was more of a spirit of its own and I was merely the messenger responsible for painting it in this world. It is a reminder to think beyond what is in your face, and that more exists than the naked eye can perceive.

Ghost 2016x1334

Where’s the craziest place that GHOSTFACE got up?

I’ve painted in various cities around the world from the Philippines to New York and each city has had its extremes and fun stories attached to them. However, I will say painting the “GHOSTFACE” in Oaxaca, Mexico was one of the most meaningful places for me to paint as I was there during ‘Dia De Los Muertos’ [Day of the Dead], and the spiritual energy there combined with my approach left a huge impact on me.

You are one of the creative menaces behind OIT [Only In Taiwan]. How did OIT start? What is your proudest moment with OIT?

OIT started as the expression “ONLY IN TAIWAN” back in the early 2000s in response to the surprise and awe of moments that seemed impossible where I was raised. As time went by, the collective of artists would release photo zines, make stickers, and eventually around 2010-11 the first OIT shirt was made at which point I watched a shift in Taiwan's “underground” culture take place. That shift of pushing Taiwan youth to take more pride in their own Identity I would say is one of the proudest moments I share with the OIT collective.

Where do you see OIT going in the future?

I personally see OIT as a cultural hub for not just Asia but for an international stage for all artistic creators, skaters, athletes, and risk-takers. With already having established a connection to Japan and neighboring countries, I see OIT going global meanwhile being able to host a slew of both local talent and talent from abroad.

You also rock the 1s and the 2s. How do music and graffiti intersect for you?

After years of painting, I’ve realized that graffiti for me is actually an intricate dance of sorts. The way I interact with the environment, take inspiration, and release it back out is a kind of tango. Playing cat and mouse while painting “illegal” spots is a dance for only the ones with the “rhythm.” At the very basic level, when you watch someone painting, you see an interpretive dance in the motions made. Music and graffiti are my two main creative outlets and I couldn't exist without either. Music [DJing] keeps me creative when I need to stay out of the streets and it assists me when painting both indoors and outdoors.

You also have become a father recently. Has that changed the way you look at the graffiti game? If so, how?

Becoming a father hasn't changed much in my approach since I was already facing the inevitable fact of age and responsibility. I think I owe it to my child to remain completely authentic in who I want to be so that they also have this confidence to “stand on business” as they say. That being said, I take my role as a parent very seriously. Obviously, I move slightly differently with how I paint, but I feel those changes were coming regardless as an effort of self-preservation.

You have your first-ever solo exhibit starting this weekend and going for two months called THE BYE PRODUCT. What can people expect when they drop by?

THE BYE PRODUCT is a collection of work created here in Taipei City over the span of a decade plus. The event is being hosted and curated by LIGHTWELL GALLERY and MELTING PART in the Zhongshan district of Taipei. On the 1st floor, you will find one of my most current works that could arguably be considered my “best” painting as well as a selection of collectibles. On the 2nd floor, where the exhibition really starts, you will find a series of GHOSTFACE paintings on various mediums. And on the 3rd floor, a more expressive “contemporary” approach that is a mixture of relics, gems, and pieces of the graffiti experience that could be thought of as the “by-product” of graffiti. This is me saying “goodbye” to a body of work that is the result of 25 years of painting “UDON” and it is the first time sharing my work in a gallery.