From graffiti artist to painting great walls in China

PUBLISHED: 15:12 08 April 2008 | UPDATED: 14:56 07 September 2010

Oliver Sylvester (centre) didn’t allow China’s infamous bureaucracy to get the better of him in Shenzhen.

Oliver Sylvester (centre) didn't allow China's infamous bureaucracy to get the better of him in Shenzhen.

By Katie Davies A BELSIZE Park artist has just returned from China where he was commissioned to paint by the Communist government. Oliver Sylvester, 36, who started his career as a graffiti artist and lists his inspirations as Marvel comics and Lego, fac

By Katie Davies

A BELSIZE Park artist has just returned from China where he was commissioned to paint by the Communist government.

Oliver Sylvester, 36, who started his career as a graffiti artist and lists his inspirations as Marvel comics and Lego, faced the daunting task of painting a mural about Chinese history and getting it past the government inspectors.

The piece was part of an exhibition on architecture and urbanism in the southern city of Shenzhen.

The painter has now returned to his native Belsize Park, and heralds the trip as a huge success.

"This was the experience of a lifetime. I was commissioned to do a mural as part of the exhibition promoting Shenzhen as a cultural city," he said.

"The government paid for my flight and put me up. I did a painting looking at China moving from agriculture to communism and then the high-tech consumerism there is now. I knocked it up and it went down really well.

"It was like being a minor celebrity for a couple of weeks - I was signing flyers and everything."

In the final piece, Mr Sylvester had to be careful he didn't cross the government with his work with many artists in the same show being ordered to dismantle their pieces after they were considered too contentious.

"I hadn't really thought about censorship until all our pieces went up and the officials came around," Mr Sylvester said.

"They started censoring stuff here and there and one guy had to take his whole piece down. I don't understand why they waited until the end when it was all ready.

"All the work had gone into it and then it was just removed. Luckily mine was all right."

The trip, however, didn't leave a bad taste in his mouth and he is determined to return.

He continued: "The people were really friendly and the food was great. The beer was cheap too - 30p a bottle, so I was happy.

"I've just been keeping my head above water since I got back but I'm still painting. I am working on putting another collection together for an exhibition in London. I'd love to go back to China as well."

The former William Ellis schoolboy had a successful exhibition at AKA nightclub in Holborn in 2006. He was part of MGM graffiti in the 1980s, signing characters with the name Saker, and designed for De La Soul's video Magic Number.

katie.davies@hamhigh.co.uk

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