Moving On Up

If you’ve spent any amount of time in Bangkok and have even a passing interest in graffiti, you’ve probably spotted BigDel’s work around town. His calligraphy-style tag letters blown up to full production proportions, bold linework, crisp can control, and bubbly characters easily stand out. The fact that he’s been painting for over 25 years also means he’s had the time to blanket the city pretty well. But the writer has entered a new stage of his career, and in the past year has finally decided to take on the gallery world.

A couple weeks ago Del launched his second solo show at the Joyman Gallery called We Come In Peace. It revolves around bright, colorful cartoon characters reminiscent of his graffiti, painted in the same energetic and clean style. Like many graffiti writers, the act of painting on canvas bores him a bit. “A one-meter canvas takes me ages to finish compared to a five-meter wall with spray paint that I can finish in a day or two,” he shrugs. Instead, he’s opted to create multi-layered plaswood panel pieces made with mixed materials. The characters’ sunglasses and jewelry are made out of mirrored material, and their gas masks have netting in them. “They’re almost like art toys to me.”

Del had been sketching American-style cartoon characters since childhood and discovered graffiti through skateboarding at 15 years old, when hip hop culture in general first started making its way to Thailand. “I saw the graphics on a deck and it caught my attention right away,” he recalls. But it was an uphill battle learning the culture way back when before the internet and social media. “At first, I didn’t even know it was called graffiti.” He pieced things together through what he could find in imported magazines and hip hop music videos, painting with local Thai spray paint, stock caps, and homemade skinny caps.

For years Del only painted letters. It would take a long time before he added characters to his work, which he did because he felt it would reach more people. He also graduated from design school and made a career out of design work and illustration. In 2012 he produced a TV show called Art Venture about graffiti and street art that aired on local cable for five years. “I wanted people who were not part of the culture to understand and open their hearts to graffiti. I also wanted newcomers to learn new techniques from the show,” he says. “But I lost a lot of money doing it.”

The gallery world was never on Del’s radar through his decades of activity. His only paid artwork was commissioned walls and design jobs. But last year he was part of a group show at Joyman Gallery and all his work sold out. He joined another afterward and it sold out as well. “I saw a big opportunity to do what I love and get paidβ€”so why not,” he laughs. The birth of his daughter Emma was also a big motivation to make a go of it. “She’s really my number one reason driving me into the gallery scene.” At the end of 2022 he had his debut solo show at Might One Gallery.

But graffiti is still at the root of everything Del does. “Graf is just about being yourself and not caring what people think. Once you walk away from the wall, only your piece and tag are left there. It’s a rebellion and I love it,” he says. He’s made sure to bring that soul along with him into the gallery space. The Joyman show features walls covered in patches of aged corrugated metal sheets covered in graffiti and wheat pastings, familiar sights to writers out painting in the street. In the center of the gallery, there’s a shack that viewers can step inside, where there’s a refrigerator full of empty spray cans. On the opening night, other writers and street artists took advantage of the markers on display to add to the show, catching tags on any available space on the shack. “I really wanted to capture the essence of graffiti. I hope to represent it properly.”