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The local art scene has seen a steady improvement with the inception of numerous artists, not forgetting initiatives and government efforts to promote art in Singapore. With art getting more acceptance locally and an increased audience at artshows growing around the island, how much do we exactly believe in local art? Has art in Singapore lost its relevance and its substance?
One of Singapore’s most respected urban artists with a strong portfolio to boot, TraseOne has had his works showcased at numerous artshows, with a handful being social commentaries such as Is This Home Truly? andSupah Poke. Reflective of the state of the local climate, his work sends out strong messages which are straight-forward, honest, and relevant- something we are lacking in today. He talks to us about graffiti art as an influence and the state of the local art scene.
- How did you get started on art?
Out of pure boredom. What began as mindless doodles and blind traces led to a serious commitment.
I have my late mother to thank for introducing art to me when I was a kid. She was a crafty person herself and taught me a great deal in creating art.. especially DIY stuff. One of the first things I learnt was to draw using tracing paper, tracing over objects and making layers.
- Tell us about your progression and maturity of your art style ever since your inception.
I believe in having a good foundation for whatever I wish to build thereon end. I started out spending hours just working on paper. There wasn’t much concept applied to them. It was purely technical practice. This practice went on when I started hitting walls. I didn’t have any ideas or issues I wanted to portray, except for having a style. I quote from the legendary French crew 123Klan; “Style is the message”.
Every piece that I painted had a particular style that I adopted for a certain time. Unlike others, I keep changing styles every 2 years or so just to keep exploring possibilities and techniques. So I went from the ultra straight technical type drawings to more organic elements in a smooth transgression.
As I went further into art education, I learnt about theories and the impact of having a solid concept towards my art.
I took a break one time reflecting my work and I figure I needed more substance in my work, I sort of needed to have a purpose for doing what I did. It’s not just about painting pretty things anymore. To me, that purpose is to convey a message, issues that needed attention, a social commentary of sorts. I could make fun of others, or myself, but I’d really need to know why I did that too. So I’m in the midst of a journey to discover the self, through this commentary. There’s a good mix of fun and serious issues in it, so that roughly explains my style so far.
- What interests you?
Humor. Keeps my sanity intact.
Complains. To see how anal some people can get.
Rants. To see life from others’ point of view.
- What issues do you think we as Singaporeans should be addressing?
Freedom. Not only in political terms, but also in terms of leading lives. We are bound by the constant pressure to chase papers that we forget how to sit back, sip a cuppa milo dinosaur and laugh at the dude who just sat on a freshly painted bench.
- Who in the local arts industry do you look up to, and why?
The current army of new media and street artists who, despite knowing how hard it is to get up, are still doing it no matter how murderous their passion can be.
- I see a recurring pattern in your artwork, there are strong messages that are evident such as repression and the state of the local art climate. Aren’t you afraid of the consequences it might bring for going against the grain? Nope. Whatever I portrayed in those works is an honest commentary from personal experience. If I were to be taken down for expressing myself, it just goes to show how screwed up a system we are running under. Everyone’s preaching about freedom of speech, freedom of expression but no one dares to speak up. Everyone’s busy trying to cover their own asses from getting shit.. but they fail to realize the shit is in their own asses. Pun intended.
I see Art as the greatest avenue for one to be honest with one’s self, be it visual, musical, literature, etc. If you’re just bullshitting through your work, it’s going to be pretty obvious. When I chose to be an artist, I figure the only way to go is against the grain. Anything along it is just as good as any other day job.
- What issues do you hold dear to your heart, that you (wish to) put through in your art?
I like the idea of challenging the norm. When I started drawing and painting graffiti I tried making the straightest line possible without ever using a ruler. Then came the phase when I saw just too many clean pieces, that I began painting in the messiest of ways. Then when I dabbled with stencils, I just didn’t want my pieces to remain 2D. That’s where I added the red wool to add texture and relief. Not really sure if juxtaposition is the right word to use, but it goes along that concept of fusing opposites. Those are the technical aspects that pretty much sum up my works. Doing something one would never think of, or would usually overlook. It bleeds down to theoretical concept from there. I didn’t put much thought into my works when I first started out. It was purely experimental. Now that I feel I’m capable of playing around with whatever techniques I choose, it’s time to challenge my thoughts. We are constantly ‘oppressed’ by rules and regulations, be it by the system, or personal fears we developed ourselves. My aim is to challenge those things by stepping out of my comfort zone. I also accept the fact that there are some things that you can’t go against, but you can very well go around.
- What’s your preferred medium, and why?
Anything that’s quick and easy to apply. If there was a machine that could produce works straight from the brain in an instant, I’d be the first to queue for it. I’m not much of a patient dude to begin with, and if I had an idea that suddenly appears, I’d like to do it right away. Sometimes the more I think it through, the more the whole idea get vetted and its meaning/values get reduced significantly. Thoughts that come in an instant may be simple or pretty straightforward. But I believe in ‘minimum effort maximum impact’. That is why my pieces appear clean with no disturbance of background, so that viewers can focus immediately on what I’m painting.
- Tell us about the progression and state about the local art scene.
I’m glad to see my generation of artists able to come up with interesting thought-provoking work. With the partial acceptance of graffiti art among society, it opens up a lot of doors for kids who have great potentials in art but needed something to connect themselves to.. just to give themselves a push start in the art world. So we are seeing a lot of upcoming artists now and then. The real challenge is seeing how long they can sustain themselves.
- How about graffiti?
There’s been a surge in graffiti and street-inspired art the past couple of years. It’s a good vibe though a little control should take place to keep the quality of works constant. A down side of it is that this ‘boom’ leaves an impression that it’s a passing fad cos everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. Then the dedicated ones will be in deep shit cos ultimately we survive on this shit. The real ones have managed to make this their livelihood, while others just wilt away over time. Once this happens, it can be quite a struggle to maintain the passion. But I guess that’s what drives some of us. I’ve been through the phase long enough to see the scene almost on the brink of dying and now its alive again and god knows what it’ll be like a couple years down the line.
- What’s the direction graffiti is currently heading in?
A bit stagnant I should say. Most of them keep painting the same things over and over it’s hard to make out their progression. They paint the same things, same walls, same spots. There’s definitely an improvement in skills, but that’s about it. There is a lack of concept or a missing factor that makes viewers say “That’s fucking genius.” I see only a handful of them who are willing to push their limits, infusing other disciplines and creating a whole new visual language beyond just painting walls.
- What’s the inspiration behind Shadow Skaters?
I spend a considerable amount of time roaming the streets at night, every time I pass by a beautiful shadow cast by the street lights, somehow the first thing that comes to mind would be mini skateboarders skating over those shadows and imagining the load of fun those little dudes would have launching off huge ramps and pipes. Out of boredom one night, I quickly made a stencil of a skater and went out painting it. I really like how it looked, a painting that actually interacts with its environment, I believe street art should be as such. You can put any kind of art on the streets and call it street art, but whether it belongs in the streets or not is an entirely different question.
- How did you conceive that concept?
Based on personal experience when I was skating then, most of us would skate at night, cos it’s much cooler and human traffic is lesser, especially in hotspots like CBD. So to use those shadows would seem ideal cos just like us, those shadows only appear at night. Since stencils too are created by using shadows of the original image, it blends together conceptually. I made the stencils small so that they’d be proportionate with the shadows that they’re playing with and also to relate how small the skateboarding scene is that it gets little attention, no matter how many skate parks are built. Having them small allows mobility too. I can stash them easily in the pack wherever I went, cos I wanted to paint lots of them. Placement plays another important part. I pick spots that are usually less obvious, where one would never imagine a usual tag would be at. It conveys the idea that skaters can make use of any kind of obstacles to play with, usually from some of the most unimaginable locations.
- What do you wish to achieve with your art?
I want my art to bridge gaps between two opposing elements, to be the voice of possibilities and to speak up for things that are afraid to be spoken about. Among all that seriousness, I’d like to infuse fun/humor into the works so if you can’t understand what I’m trying to say, the least you can do is laugh at it at first glance. Getting acknowledgements was never a priority. I started painting to acknowledge my personal issues. Now that I have an audience who appreciate my work, I feel an obligation to relay messages laid by them as a tribute for inspiring me to continue my artistic journey.
- Share with us your views on the local art scene.
We need more young cats who really know what they’re doing and are willing to push limits besides dressing up arty farty.
- How about appreciation and the local audience?
Barely enough to sustain a rich creative culture, as much as I admit that there is a healthy dose of followers and appreciators for such a small plot of land. I guess what we need is eventually someone who’s willing to invest not only financially, but also in terms of giving opportunities to cultivate experimental ideas. I’ve seen a lot of great ideas among fellow artists here but sadly most of it remains only in the sketchbooks. One factor might be due to the mentality of audiences in their willingness to accept certain ideas. See the locals here are sort of “educated” into thinking in a certain way, in other words, something “politically correct”. So anything out of that way can be considered as extreme as offensive or even “blasphemous” to some. Art and Blasphemy hang out together a lot. Haha.
- What do you feel connects to the local audience?
Politically correct, safe works.. I guess. I keep getting that shit when told to make works. So I guess that feeds the public well.
- Local art and it’s relevance to the local public- what’s your take?
Definitely should have more of these, as a sort of reflection. In most cases people can’t see how they really are until someone shows them in their faces. Like the saying that goes “look at yourself in the mirror”. Some of the best art in the world are a reflection of the people in their country of origin.
- Is local art still used as a tool to communicate messages, in your opinion?
In my opinion, an art with no message defeats its sole purpose. Of course, any art from anywhere should relay a message, though not many use it as such. Lots of artists are cooped up in their own fantasies, or are stuck in their own memories/history, much less of the social commentary kind. In most cases though, those messages are less obvious cos we have to make “safe” works, or else it’ll quickly be labeled propaganda.
- Recommend us a local independent curated show. Zero had a well thought out show when he did his solo “The Spectacular Spectacular”. It reflects on how we absorb ourselves in the consumer culture from affects of globalization. We get blinded by media into being entities we are not, to become a parody of our own times. Each piece invited the viewer to create a dialogue within each other, of how some closely resemble you or others whom you know. With so much branding in one spot, the places just defines the world we live in, surrounded and blinded by new media.