SpeakCryptic, Art on Street Level

Speakcryptic, Selfportrait

Singapore could well have become one of the world’s most prolific centers for contemporary graffiti. Its current public space is largely defined by the white walls surrounding the many construction sites, providing blank canvases ready for beautification by the local street artists. Alas, these canvases are already claimed by a more widely accepted form of graffiti; commercial advertising. Culturepush has a chat with ‘Fine’ (Street) Artist, SpeakCryptic, about street art in Singapore and ….

… how it all started
Before street art, I was, what you could call, more of a traditionalist when it comes to painting. When I started art school, my heroes were artists like Pollock, Van Gogh and Cy Twombly (and they still are). That’s all I knew and that was the direction of my art. I was studying the Impressionists and some Post-Modernist art, but I got bored and as a result, painting became a chore. And that was depressing because I didn’t know what else to do with my life and I was afraid of losing the ‘will’ to create.

Sometime in 2003, I was getting increasingly aware of my environment and inadvertently became more interested in certain social and political issues. My frustrations became more apparent in my work. It had reached a point where I just got bored with brush and paint. The main question for me at that point was ‘How can I make my works available to the non-museum going crowd?’ As an art student, your only audience is the people that are part, or somehow related to the art institute. And if you weren’t a ‘star’ student, then nobody really cared. Not everybody will agree with this statement, but that’s my personal impression. I also had a strong urge to make my art available to anyone who wanted to see it.

SpeakCryptic, Installations

Street Installations by SpeakCryptic

I discovered street art in that same year. I was reading an article about the EZLN on the Internet and stumbled upon some links on ‘culture jamming’. And a few clicks later, I found myself on the Wooster Collective site. And that’s pretty much how I got myself into street art. I remember being extremely excited about my discovery … I honestly felt reborn and I was thinking, ‘Here is an art movement that subscribes to my ideologies.’And all of a sudden I didn’t feel so alone anymore. It may sound kind of cliché but it’s true. Late 2005, my first sticker went up. It was a pretty ugly sticker but I finally got the satisfaction that was missing before. I was hooked!

… the local scene
I’ve only been doing street art for a couple of years now so I’m probably not the right guy to give you a complete rundown. There are many artists before me who have done so much for the street art movement in Singapore. Guys from the OAC and Urbanzombie, for example have been doing their thing since the 90s, even before it was ‘cool’. But not much has been said about the history of the local street/graffiti art movement and up until now, if you want to talk about the history, well there’s not much one could say about it. Even though the community is pretty tight, there is no documentation whatsoever on the history of street/graffiti art in Singapore.

Street art by Killer Gerbil

But the scene is still pretty young so I don’t think that there’s a need to write a history book on something that I feel is still in its infancy. And as long as there is progression, we’ll definitely get there. For example, the number of people who are doing street/graffiti art now has probably quadrupled since the 90s. And that has a lot to do with popular culture and how the authorities have given us ‘legal’ walls to paint on and practice our craft. Also, I strongly believe that the introduction of the Killer Gerbil and the Artvsts in the beginning of 2002 has a lot to do with influencing other individuals in picking up the spray can.

But what’s happening now, is this kind of certain backlash that comes with anything that is popular. There are many examples of people who utilize the medium of street/graffiti art to transform themselves into ‘artists’. And in the end, what you’re getting are people who are blindly jumping on the bandwagon without giving much thought to their actions and why they are doing it.

… his collabs with other artists
In May 2006, I had the honor of painting alongside SlacSatu, Clogtwo, PFT, Antz, Syco and the guys from Artvsts for the Off the Wall event at the Singapore Art Museum. It was awesome to be part of a group of people that do absolutely amazing work. I’ve known the guys from Artvsts since 1998 from art school and they thought me pretty much everything I know. From can control to how to make a nice batch of wheat-paste. And they are genuinely nice guys which is an extra bonus.

KeepItLikeASecret, 12Delta, SpeakCryptic

Collab with OneTwodelta and Keep It Like A Secret

From there, other collabs with other like minded artists like Keep It Like A Secret and OneTwoDelta came about. And with each instance, I’ve always learned something new and that’s how I treat collabs, I guess. It’s just another opportunity to learn about the craft. It’s a constant learning process for me and I’ll jump at every chance I get to work with other artists, just so that I can improve the things that I personally think need improving.

… the consumer culture hijacking street culture
There was a time when the only reason I was doing street art, was to actually balance out billboards. Most of my work was a reaction against blind consumerism. Corporations are exploiting our flaws and knowing our weaknesses to make that extra dollar and that’s the only thing they care about … bottom line and profit margins. Earlier on, I mentioned something about ‘balancing out’. I am referring here to big corporations using bright colors and catch phrases to attract the consumer’s attention. On my part, there was this conscious attempt to use a similar strategy, but instead of trying to sell a product, I was trying to sell an idea … The idea about questioning your own environment and becoming more aware of the products that you consume on a daily basis.

The funny thing is that there are now brands that are using street art to promote their products. The perfect example would be the recent advertising campaign by Adidas and Sony PSP. And I’m not surprised at all that these corporations have resorted to using street art because we definitely can’t deny its effectiveness. So I think it’s all fair game.

… his plans for the future
In June I graduated from art school with a BA in Fine Arts, so I’m hoping to do something with that. I just had my first solo show at Straits Records and that went awesomely well. My next gallery show will be in January at a new gallery space called Night & Day. I’ll be putting up more drawings together with Keep It Like A Secret so I’m definitely looking forward to that.

And as long as we’re on the subject of art galleries, I would just like to say something about street artist doing gallery shows. Street artists are getting a lot of flak whenever they decide to do a show in an art gallery. There is this unwritten rule that street art is no longer considered street art if it’s placed in an art gallery. But I beg to differ because that is only true if your definition of street is ‘a public road in a city or town.’ If the original idea of doing street art is to reach as many people as possible, then shouldn’t the artwork appear indoors as well? Aren’t we supposed to be taking over the world? So why would we want to limit ourselves to the streets? Anyway, I’m still putting up my stickers, signs and what not around certain parts of Singapore, some more than others. And I have a couple of new things in the making, which, unfortunately, I can’t talk about by fear of jinxing it …

You can view more of Crypt’s work on his myspace and his site (coming soon). Also check out his shows: UNSCENE, a showcase of Speakcryptic’s new works. Through August 31 at Straits Records, 22 Bali Lane. Free. SpeakCryptic & Keep It Like A Secret. From 3 January through 2 February 2008 at the Night & Day Art Space, 139A/C Selegie Road. Free.



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