In Guangzhou, a port city of 15 million people to the north of Hong Kong, aerosol artist Satr, is at the forefront of the street art scene in the region. With her roots in graffiti fonts and characters, she has continued to experiment with spray can techniques to develop a special style of her own that pays homage to aspects of traditional Chinese art, while adding an element of etherealism to the animals she paints. Her art continues to evolve as she masters can control and atomization of the paint she works with to create strikingly mystical murals using a minimal color scheme. We caught up with Satr to discuss how she came up with her unique style, how it’s helping bridge the gap between traditional and urban art, and the progression of acceptance of street art in Chinese culture.
What is your favorite time of day to be creative?
Early in the morning, when the mind is clear, or late in the evening, when it is quiet.
Is there something you cannot work without?
Music, especially very rhythmic music, will enable me to control the spray paint more precisely. Sometimes I feel particularly comfortable when the rhythm of music matches that of my painting movements.
What was your first experience of street art?
I have been writing graffiti letters and painting characters since 2013. The variation in letter structure and the accuracy of the outline of the piece were my first obsessions. At that time, outlining was my favorite aspect of painting. My attention was focused on the technique that controls the spray. There are some lines that need to be precise, as well as some effects that need to be dealt with when the paint is floating, which gives me the foundation for skilled control of the spray paint. Although my style may be completely different from before, my obsession with precise spray control has not changed. In spite of the fact that I still enjoy listening to music and drawing lines, I have changed from lettering outlines to animal shapes. In addition, my old graffiti character was a cartoon tiger, and now I also enjoy painting tigers.
In your own words, how would you describe your style of art?
My understanding of my current style is to use the atomization of spray paint as a form, allowing seemingly intangible and ethereal objects to form images with power.
Is there intentional symbolism in your artwork?
Painting animals is my passion, and I especially enjoy painting felines because they are intelligent, strong, and uncommon. It is not the kind of animal that is trained. Just like people, animals can express a lot of emotions.
Your style has been described as urban art combined with traditional Chinese artistic elements. What parts of Chinese art culture have you incorporated into your art?
The blank spaces in my work are usually not filled to the fullest extent, consistent with the concept of “keeping vacant” in traditional Chinese paintings, which leaves an area of negative space for the viewer to express their imagination. Furthermore, I like the traditional Chinese painting method of “impressionistic form”, which disregards the external fidelity of the artistic image and emphasizes the artistic creation tendency and technique of its inner spiritual essence rather than the integration of elements. That is how I aim to incorporate the spirit of traditional Chinese painting into my work.
There is so much movement in your art, how do you create images that look and feel so ethereal?
In the draft stage, I go about envisioning the flow and balance of the image.
My previous experience drawing graffiti fonts allowed me to make the font arrangement natural and fluid. So I suppose this influenced my subsequent street art career. Spray paint is my favorite because of its graininess and translucency. For the past few years, this has been the focal point of my work. I enjoy creating work that appears layered and ethereal, while simultaneously being a great test of my ability to control the paint. As much transparency as possible must be achieved with a single stroke, and if I do not do it correctly, the image may not look good, so I’ve spent a lot of time working on that, and I am happy to see you can see the subtle difference that proves the effort I’ve made was felt.
How do you conceptualize your ideas? Can you walk us through your creative process a bit?
If the wall is just the right size, I usually have some sketches prepared before I begin painting a wall. I would simply paint it. However, if the size is not appropriate, I will rethink another draft. At this point, I think about what animal I wish to paint and what mood I would like the piece to convey, like this wall in Mannheim, as I sketched, three keywords came to mind: two animals, the fluidity of emotional transmission, whispers. That is when the idea struck me, which you see now. As they whisper, with the spots on the leopard and the black panther floating and linking them together. That’s what I wanted to convey. In the negative space, I kept a large area of white space, hoping that the atmosphere of their moment was more relaxed and not boxed in by the perimeter of the wall edge.
How have you seen street art evolve over time in your country?
It was not common for Chinese people to understand graffiti art in the early days, but more and more young people are attempting to do graffiti and attempting to achieve their creative goals. Art culture has slowly begun to be understood and accepted by the general public in recent years. Urban art is still a relatively new concept for the general public, and it is quite difficult to promote a wide range of urban art to the general public. Hopefully, in the near future, the big cities in China will be more receptive to this culture and there will be a wide range of artists from around the globe contributing to this effort.
Do you prefer to work in your studio or on the streets?
Both are different feelings, but I prefer to create on the street. Creating outdoors involves many challenges, such as physical strength, composition, and environment, in addition to the challenge of presenting your work well. The direct communication between me and the passerby is what I enjoy most about painting on the street!
You painted an incredible piece in the largest Tesla distribution center in Shanghai, what was that experience like?
It was a very interesting experience. Tesla saw my work online and liked it so much that they contacted me and invited me to create a piece for their Shanghai delivery center. On the site, I selected what I considered to be a very special wall, which was a T-shaped wall, so I created an eagle with wings spread. Tesla has an eagle-winged door as one of its unique features. During my week there, I was given a great deal of creative freedom, and I had a really enjoyable time.
Are there any dream locations that you would like to paint?
Over 1,000 square feet of giant wall, no matter where it is.
What has been the most satisfying part of putting your art out into the world?
Seeing street art connect people, creators, organizers, locals, and artists, is the best part for me. It is a great pleasure for me to meet unseen artists at different events and discuss the possibilities of art with them. It is also very satisfying to be able to use your art to travel to different places and experience different cultures, and then use those feelings to create your next piece.
What projects do you have coming up next we can look forward to?
After two months of street art touring in Europe during July and August, I have returned to my studio and am preparing to create new artworks that will be exhibited in Paris in the coming year. There will also be a graffiti tour next summer. Please stay tuned!