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Graffiti Artist Nguyễn Tấn Lực Is Serious About Changing Public Opinion of Street Art

As an art form deeply rooted in the streets, graffiti embodies the liberation of creativity from strict societal framing. But like other street creations, it’s never free from public scrutiny due to its urban origin and settings. Nguyễn Tấn Lực, a local artist with 10 years' worth of "street cred," is here to change that.

A Decade-Long Pursuit

Nguyễn Tấn Lực has spent more than a decade of his life pursuing the art of graffiti. His works delve into Vietnamese cultural and spiritual subjects at large, and the beauty and strength of Vietnamese women in particular.

“Graffiti is free and unbound by any rules, which definitely reflects my personality. I could see myself represented, thus I’m constantly drawn to the art and inspired to create more of it. I never have to force anything to come out,” Lực tells Saigoneer.

Tấn Lực with Wallovers members.

In addition to working on his individual projects, Lực is also a founding and active member of Wallovers, a group of graffiti and mural art artists that consists of Zkhoa (Trang Nhơn Khoa), Daes (Lưu Đoàn Duy Linh) and Deska (Phạm Thành Nguyên). Having come together in 2017 from different backgrounds, the group members are unified by a common denominator — an endless adoration for street arts.

This shared attribute forges compatibility between the members' mindset and vision, which is visual-centric, community-oriented, and socially conscious. When observing Wallovers' artwork, viewers can sense an intimate interaction between graphic arts and urban landscapes, or between the creatives’ personal identities and local influences.

When observing Wallovers' artworks, viewers can sense an intimate interaction between graphic arts and urban landscapes.

“These cross-sections are important for bringing arts into our daily lives and making them more relatable and accessible to common folks. They also allow the messages that we want to convey through our paintings to reach more people,” Lực said of both his and his crew’s view of their artistry.

A Painter of Vietnamese Women

Describing his personal endeavor under the pseudonym Cresk, Lực said that he searches for new materials and ideas in the simplest and most basic things. He would diligently watch any scene taking place in the streets, and collect these hidden gems of life in Vietnam, then meticulously polish their rough edges until they are refined as a way to honor these overlooked beauties.

Female figures appear frequently in Lực’s personal portfolio.

Lực’s personal portfolio features imagery heavily inspired by Vietnamese women. Through his artistic depictions, the female spirit is portrayed as feminine, but not overly sentimental; mysterious, but always outstanding; and delicate, yet incredibly brave. Characteristically local elements such as áo dài and nón lá are also seamlessly interlaced with urban materials, creating compositions that are based on both modernity and tradition. In his latest exhibition, “Urban Layers,” Lực once again captivated viewers with not only graffiti art, but also sculptures to honor Vietnamese women. While his visual works radiate tenderness and energy, the sculptures represent a boldness possessed by contemporary-minded, empowered women.

Swaying Public Perception

Graffiti is nothing new in Vietnam, but there are still common biases that Lực, Wallovers, and all other artists need to overcome. On multiple painting trips, Lực has received sneering looks and unsolicited comments from passersby, and has even been chased from sites while trying to finish his paintings, effectively wasting the painstaking preparations that must take place in order for his creative process to happen. 

"It’s certainly depressing. Not only do I waste my money, but the time, the effort and the heart that I put in also become meaningless," he said. "However, it’s undeniable that there are some reckless people out there who only care about putting paint, even if it ends up ugly, on as many walls as possible. Such a careless practice has only further degraded the image of graffiti in the public eye."

On multiple painting trips, Lực has received sneering looks and unsolicited comments from passersby.

“Even so, graffiti is still an art, one that’s done on a massive canvas of concrete. And like other art forms, graffiti needs complete dedication. From fleshing out new ideas, getting permits from local authorities, to lining up spray cans, I try to be as neat as possible at every single step. Sketching, coloring, arranging the smallest details…There’s not a single thing that I can take for granted, because I don’t want to negatively impact the larger graffiti community and the neighborhoods where my works reside,” Lực says.

A Medium for Positive Messages

The core value of graffiti arts can be encapsulated in the word "beauty." Beauty that becomes present when the streets are filled with colors and the community's spirit is lifted seeing another artistic creation has been made in their neighborhood. Or beauty that comes from the profound impact that graffiti can have on society, which is what Lực and Wallovers truly aim to do with their art.

Throughout his 10-year career, Lực has actively engaged in graffiti projects that he considers beneficial to the public. Among these include “City Forest” — a campaign in which 300 "trees," or paintings made of air-purifying paint, are "planted" across the world.

Tấn Lực collaborated with another graffiti artist, Người Đá, to create this submission for City Forest.

Lực has also partaken in numerous wall painting projects for children's houses and orphanages in the hope of bridging the gap between street arts and society’s young members. One particularly memorable design was from a campaign organized by the Red Cross to raise awareness about the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, where Lực and fellow Wallovers members created a drawing of an HIV-positive mother embracing her child.

“Through these works, I hope to make a small contribution toward making life more beautiful and bringing hope and optimism to more people. Perhaps everyone will have a more open-minded view about graffiti then.”

A mural that Wallovers created for a children's hospital in Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City.

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