Won Kim developed his artistic skills at night -- and under the disguise of an alias.
As a teenager, he says he spray painted "anywhere and everywhere" he could -- whether he had permission or not.
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If you goWhat: Art in Bloom
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, June 16, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 17
Where: Cantigny Park, 1S151 Winfield Road, Wheaton
Cost: Free admission, $5 parking fee per car
Info: cntigny.org or (630) 668-5161
Now, Kim, 32, is a graffiti artist hired by corporate clients and invited to major art festivals.
Next month, his graffiti -- on canvas -- will be the subject of an exhibit in a St. Louis gallery. And this weekend at Cantigny's Art in Bloom festival, Kim will join two other graffiti artists in demonstrations of their work.
"Always attracting a new audience is appealing to me," Kim said.
The juried art festival is one of Cantigny Park's signature events, drawing an estimated 10,000 people over Father's Day weekend. Roughly 80 artists will present and sell their pieces Saturday and Sunday, June 16 and 17.
Kim, a self-taught artist and chef in Chicago, plans to invite patrons to test out spray cans and highlight the creative processes behind graffiti. And he wants to dispel perceptions that graffiti is limited to illegal vandalism, bold letters or gang activity.
"It's going to be more thought-out and more our own thing, something that is way more developed than what I think a lot of people in the suburbs are used to or know anything about," Kim said.
He's inspired by everything from his travels across the Midwest and in his native South Korea to the people he meets in the graffiti culture -- full of those aliases and its own language. "Tagging" means signing your name on your work, for instance.
"It's a really intimate, private thing, but at the same time it's very public," Kim said.
His locker partner in eighth grade drew him into graffiti, albeit indirectly. Kim knew he could scrawl names in graffiti and "begged" him to paint his own. But his friend refused, only spray painting girls' names.
"I kind of just took that as a brush off and decided to teach myself," Kim said.
While he says his early graffiti career involved illegitimate venues, he now focuses on his legitimate work in a booming medium, pointing out that manufacturers make special spray paint designed for graffiti.
"It's blown up so much that it's just so hard to catch up," Kim said.
Erin Melloy, Cantigny's art consultant for the festival, says the artists will paint on plastic and on more permanent installations, possibly wooden doors.
"That's really exciting to bring that kind of creative energy to the show," said Melloy, of Naperville.
For the festival, three judges selected the 76 artists based on quality, impact and appeal, technique and presentation of their booths, Melloy said.
They create in a host of media: photography, ceramics, sculpture, watercolor and acrylics.
And the entire art festival is against the backdrop of Cantigny's blooming gardens.
Kim encourages patrons to keep an open mind and hopes they appreciate his love for the art.
"Anything you do passion-wise, creativity-wise should be fun," he said.
The festival runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. The event is free with a $5 parking fee. For information, call (630) 668-5161 or visit Cantigny.org.