From tagging in Paris to festivals in Saigon – the journey of Suby One.
A Different Kind of Art School
On a warm March morning in Saigon, we met with Trang Suby (artist name Suby One) over a cup of Vietnamese coffee. Even before the caffeine kicked in, Trang’s presence exuded an infectious energy. It was immediately clear how important building an art scene in Saigon is to him. Before we get into that, we first must go back to where it all started on the street of Paris.
It’s hard to think of a cooler artistic education than tagging subways with a crew in the Paris underground. For Suby, the streets and trains of Paris were simply the most accessible places to learn, practice, and make new friends.
“I started tagging in 1991, because the older guys in my neighborhood were tagging. I also had a mentor who lived next door to me. He was three years older, which at the time was a big age difference. He seemed so cool, so I started painting with him. I then started a graffiti crew and every Wednesday at 2pm we’d go watch the older guys do big graffiti pieces and learn. I wanted to be part of something, and had no idea I’d still be doing it today. Some people give up, but I just kept at it. I liked the fact that we were leaving something behind, even if it was just a tag.”
We found out there are a few rules in the graffiti world that are part of the learning process. Suby explains, “There are rules. You learn tags first, then do some bubbles, and then you can do a piece. There’s an evolution to it.”
After learning from others for more than a year, Suby tagged his first subway in Paris. He explains, “I was the one young guy the older ones would bring in to tag the trains. I did this for about five years, but had to stop because I was tired of being chased by the authorities.”
From Graffiti to Galleries
Suby continued to tag other parts of Paris, but as he got older Suby started thinking more about his legacy as an artist and building something more permanent.
“You can spend two or three hours going to tag a train and it sometimes only lasts ten minutes. Something you make one day can be gone the next. You get older and you think, maybe other mediums can last longer than graffiti. For me, it was a natural transition.”
While artistically it was a natural transition, mentally it was a big change to go from showcasing work on the streets to being presented in art galleries. It was an internal struggle. He says, “When you grow up and see fine art exhibitions you think, eh, that’s not for me. At the time I thought, if I ever get shown in a gallery, I’m going to do something really different and unique.”
He followed through with this promise. In 2010, Suby was invited to create a few pieces for an art exhibition in Paris to mark the anniversary of his graffiti crew. His work definitely stood out. “Everyone was doing graffiti for the exhibition, and I wanted to do something more abstract on canvas. People didn’t really like it and thought it was pretty weird.” Despite the feedback from his peers, the exhibition was very encouraging for Suby. “On the last day of the exhibition, the gallery curator called me over, and someone bought my painting. It was a great feeling.”
Building a Scene in Saigon
Suby has worked relentlessly to create unique, visual masterpieces on walls and canvases throughout the world. He’s also moved to Saigon. “It’s a call of the roots. My grandparents and parents were both born and raised in Vietnam. When I moved here, it helped me understand so much more about my family and about myself.” The lifestyle of Saigon also is much more suited to Suby. “I like the way of life here. Europe was great but Ho Chi Minh City is more relaxed. You actually have time to see friends.”
The move hasn’t been without its challenges. “There aren’t many big murals here. It’s hard to get access to that kind of space and to get the proper scaffolding.
The street art scene in Saigon is still in its infancy, but Suby is working hard to make it bigger and encourage the younger generation. “If one guy succeeds, others will follow. If there are no mentors or examples, nobody will pursue this as a career. It’s exciting to show kids that it’s possible to have a career as an artist.”
He’s backed up these words with action. Suby organized a two-day festival with a few others at The Factory, an arts center in Saigon. The festival showcased over 25 artists, DJs, break-dancers, and rappers. With a determined look on his face, he says that “a group is starting to form” in Saigon, and we believe him.