After using the trains and metro stations of his hometown as media exposure, French-born graffiti artist Trang Suby went from the streets of Paris to the gallery in Vietnam. A versatile artist in both graffiti and abstract art, Suby’s work is featured throughout Ho Chi Minh City.
We meet with him at one of the venues that feature his work to get the full perspective on the emerging graffiti art scene in Vietnam and why he’s excited to be here.
Tell us about your journey to Vietnam. What first drew you to Vietnam?
The first time I visited Vietnam was in 2012 to see my grandmother. I came back in 2013 for the second time, a friend of mine was getting married here. It was good timing…I used to work in Singapore as a bartender in 2001 and traveled to Thailand eight or nine times. But I never went to Vietnam. It’s like opening a hidden bottle of quality champagne that’s been kept on the shelf for too long.
I eventually moved out here a few years ago to take a break with the end goal of starting a business. At first, I wanted to launch a dating website, but ended up opening a coffee and baguette concept shop called Lamie in the 15b Le Thanh Ton alleyway instead. It quickly became a hangout spot for graffiti artists in Vietnam. The coffee shop featured one of the few legal graffiti walls at the time. Eventually, the neighborhoods got fed up with the amount of foot traffic and the neighborhood banned graffiti in the area. The wall is still there though.
Soon after I moved over to the now gone 3A Station. At 3A Station, I opened the Giant Step Gallery featuring mostly graffiti art. I made it a space for all, featuring students and up-and-coming artists.
What keeps you here in Vietnam?
When I first came here, I felt like I was discovering a massive missing part of my life. Living in Vietnam made me realize why I’m the person I am today and why my parents are the way they are. Everybody’s mannerisms are similar to my own and my family’s.
I’m also not keen on returning to Europe. I had my own success in Europe, working in several exhibitions. The last one I was featured in was at the Louvre. But here in Vietnam you have more time to relax between work. And there’s more opportunity to start things. At the same time, it’s harder to make a dollar here too. But the living experience here is more hustling and fast-paced than France. Everybody can get paid here too if you have the skills and exposure.
I also have my own personal goal in Vietnam to help elevate the perception of graffiti art. It’s the right time to do my own work. I’ll start with painting more and seeing where it leads me.
Have you always been an artist? In France too? What’s your focus today?
I started exploring graffiti art back in France in 1992 when I was 12 years old. I was part of a crew that painted on the Parisian metro trains. I did that until 1997. I grew up in the rougher neighborhood of Vitry-sur-Seine in Paris. If you check out my city on the web, you’ll find that it’s the world capital for street art.
There are massive walls throughout the city with murals of all kinds. Graffiti for me was fun because we can find passion out of it and it’s easily shareable with my friends. I remember tagging names of other graffiti artists on walls and following their work. I must’ve worked on at least 100 trains and subways. It can take as few as 20 minutes to finish the graffiti art for some trains. I was caught two times before I was 18 years old. When I stopped graffiti art, I moved onto clothing designs and eventually took over a business in that industry. I recently went back to graffiti art and now I sell my work in galleries, online, and I do some commission-based work.
Some of my clients, like Peter at Anan Saigon and Noel from the Refinery Group both provided me with the freedom to experiment. Some jobs I don’t publicize as much because it’s very specific to the client. If they give me the freedom to do it, great. I propose a few solutions and sketch out the design two or three times. Then I get the green light to do my work.
What’s the perception of graffiti art amongst most Vietnamese?
Many still see it as vandalism. Is it making it nicer or dirtier? Graffiti art is one of the biggest artistic street movements in the world. But in Vietnam, it’s not quite there yet. You’ll see people taking pictures or selfies of the graffiti art.
Any new exciting projects coming out soon?
I’m working on a new project with Change.org in Vietnam. I’ll be painting part of a shopping mall in Go Vap, with the artwork focusing on promoting wildlife protection.
What are the differences between the artistic scenes in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City?
Many new trends emerging out of Vietnam start in Hanoi. That’s where graffiti artwork started too. Ho Chi Minh City will usually see them after Hanoi, but it’s here where the artistic trends will gain more traction. I’m not really sure why I’ve observed this. But I do like the scene up in Hanoi better to be honest. It’s not as competitive and is more collaborative.
Who are some of your clients? Where can we see your graffiti artwork?
Anan Saigon, a new Vietnamese restaurant in District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. My graffiti artwork can be found on the rooftop where the DJ box is located and in the stairwells. The ground floor artwork is more abstract
Belgo, a Belgian-style brewery in the Da Kao neighborhood. I put together a bike installation that hangs from the ceiling
The new L’Usine on Le Thanh Ton, you can find the artwork in the stairwells
Rockin Crawfish Saigon on Le Thi Rieng
The Factory Arts Contemporary Centre in District 2, Ho Chi Minh City
And finally, the new boutique hotel The Myst Dong Khoi on Ho Huan Nghiep