We’ve lived here nearly 3 months and this was somewhere we had planned to visit within the first couple of weeks. Anyway, stuff happens, but eventually we decided to head on over to the Dafen oil painting village and buy some pictures to cover our bland apartment walls.
How to get to Dafen
Dafen is located in Longgang, Shenzhen. It’s really easy to get to, line three of the metro and jump off at Dafen station. From there come out of exit A1, down the stairs and follow the road till you see the village. Alternatively jump in a cab or DiDi and ask for Dafen, Chinese characters 大芬.
You’ll pass a McDonalds, Walmart and various other shops and food outlets whose proprietors are as always, desperately trying to entice customers. Ignore all this and keep going. When you hit the end of the block you’re there.
It’s fairly obvious when you enter the village. So if you’ve not found it within 15 minutes you’ve gone wrong. There are plenty of tight twisty streets littered with sawn bits of wood, paintings and adverts. Some streets are so narrow and full of people working, you feel like you are encroaching in somebody’s house.
Should we go down there? Would somebody beckon us in? After looking around a little longer and feeling completely unsure of the street etiquette, we stepped in to the labyrinthine streets and prepared for visual overload. An amazing area. All of the streets held artistic surprises (and fakes- or rather- reproductions!) Another surprise was the amount of English speakers here. Maybe it’s the large footfall of tourists or maybe Chinese artists just speak English well?
So, what’s there?
If oil paintings are your thing, then this is the place for you. There’s a mixture of original works and copy cats. Ultra realism to modern art. I’d say it errs more on the copy cat side as that’s probably where the money is. Let’s face it, who doesn’t want an exact replica of Starry Night above the fireplace or a brightly painted Leonid Afremov to brighten up a bland wall?
As well as the many, many independent artists there are galleries displaying original art and quite a lot of Chinese art. The ultra realism always catches my eye because I still fail to believe how anyone can paint in such a way. Seeing is believing!
Slightly off topic, but there’s a bunch of dogs living in and around the village. I’m assuming they are stray as they didn’t have collars. Maybe they just live in harmony with the artists and the tourists feed them. They seemed harmless enough, at least no frothing of the mouth and some even posed for some pictures 🙂
Dotted throughout the village, you’ll find various eateries of varying quality. From the Chinese equivalent of the greasy spoon to the hipster micro breweries that wouldn’t go amiss in SoHo. The one we chose was surrounded with pottery and paintings, all of which where, of course for sale.
We settled for some tea and milkshakes, served from an retro looking jam jar with a straw stuffed through the top. The prices here reflected the setting and location. At approx £5 per milk shake, it left my insides shaken. I mean, this is China not downtown Hong Kong. Still it was a nice and pleasant setting, just come with plenty of RMB.
Just outside of the cafe we quite literary stumbled across a training alley. Pay roughly 150RMB (£16) and you can paint an an oil painting of your choice (and you’ll be helped by a pro Chinese artist.) My daughter took up the challenge and decided to paint some flowers.
The only problem with this is oils take an age to dry and we had to carry this painting back on the metro.. during golden week.. needless to say some of the painting ended up on our clothing and maybe a few other metro goers who where eager to push past me.
So if you’re in the area and fancy some art work or just a relaxing afternoon try out the Dafen oil painting village. It’s relatively inexpensive to get some original or copied art and if you can’t see what you are looking for they’ll paint it for you. Hone your bartering skills and walk away with some of China’s greatest creativity.
To end – here are some extra shots I took.