Graffiti in Busan: For the People

BUSAN, South Korea — As a former resident artist at Agit Indie Space in Busan, I have been fortunate to meet some extremely talented graffiti ‘writers.’ This is the title by which they are known in Korea, where a subculture of dedicated writers has existed for over 20 years.

Korean street art is quite unique when compared to other graffiti cultures around the world. Graffiti was originally imported from America and Japan before taking its own route. It is relatively violence free and writers experience little in the way of repercussions from law enforcement. It is even encouraged in designated places, such as the almost 1 km stretch of walls that runs along the river from the Oncheonjeong subway station to well past the PNU subway station.

A long running member of the graffiti culture known as ‘Hudini’ traces his interest in graffiti to American popular culture. “I have been doing graffiti since 1998. American movies inspired me to paint. In 1998, there was practically no graffiti in Korea,” says Hudini.

(Haeundae 2006)

Along the Oncheonjeong River near PNU

Fellow graffiti writer, Junkhouse, who started in 2004, says the outside influence is there, now with a Korean flavor. “Most of the early graffiti started with the old school American style,” says Junkhouse. “Because many of the artists loved the hip hop music and culture. Now, it is changing to Korean typography and Korean style painting.”
Perhaps the most stark difference between American graffiti and Korean graffiti is not the art itself, but the viewing public. In Korea, the citizenry is much more receptive of public art created by citizens.
But not everyone, says Junkhouse. “When I am out painting and people are yelling or asking me what I am doing, I try to explain so they will understand. But most people have positive reactions. An elementary student once showed me interesting places to paint. If I am in an abandoned area, construction workers have helped me, too. They have even let me know places that will be destroyed soon, so I can paint there.”

According to Hudini, the government looks the other way. “The Korean government does not think it is a social or community problem. When I ?nish the work, the police ask if I will please paint over it.” ~


An Interview with K2

Though only into graffiti for six years, Kay 2 is by far the most renowned in Busan. His works are expansive and more influenced by traditional art.  He uses photo-based portraits for most of his tagging, and a wide range of color. In a short time, his style has attracted attention by aficionados and casual observers alike –even a gallery owner in LA. He is also known for painting massive self-portraits peppered here and there around town.

HAPS: The graffiti in Korea seems more socially conscious and less surrounded by violence or questions of turf.  How do most Koreans feel?

In the area I grew up, graffiti was either gang-related or simply nonsense put up by neighborhood teens, and with it a negative impact on the community. Some areas are still like that. Writers are interested in outdoor and at times illegal work art, but it is not as territorial – it’s simply not important to us. The social issues are an important factor. Many Korean writers started doing graffiti around 1999-2000 with the Internet playing a large part giving us the resources to inspire and create.

K2: Do Japanese and Chinese Graffiti artists in?uence you?

I think Korean graffiti is different from China and Japan. America is more influential. Someone goes to America, sees a style, and returns with something similar. I am not that familiar with Chinese graffiti, but Japanese graffiti is very good and theirs is similar to America’s. In America, graffiti is more about culture; bombing, illegal work, and that gets you respect. Korea is different, it is only about the image created and not the culture.

HAPS: Have you ever been arrested or ?ned for your work?

Sometimes I make some risky art, but haven’t had any trouble. There is not a lot of graffiti in Korea so, it goes unnoticed and unpunished. One person was put in jail, but I don’t think he is an artist, I think he is more of an activist. He made a stencil in a similar style to (UK artist) Bansky and released it during the G20 in Seoul. He had to pay 2 million won in ?nes because he painted a mouse like Bansky with the mouse depicting the Korean people and saying, F**king G20.

K2: What is the most important thing you are trying to say with your work?

I think art plays a role in the daily lives of people, and it is a way to talk about things that are
important. I want people to see things differently in their everyday, the street they live on, their lifere?ected. I make a change to the environment, and I hope they can take a fresh look at life. ~

A K2 piece displayed in the Carmichael Gallery in California.


More from others Around Town

Photo by Ben Weller

By Junkhouse

From Urban Connection 2010 (AGIT)

Photo Essay by Herman87

You can read more about AGIT and their work with urban artists in Busan here.

Read a 2007 Interview With Seoul Graffiti Writer BFMin

The not so good  in Vancouver

*Editors Note: If you've got pics of K2's work send them in, want to post more. [email protected]

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