In Singapore, you’d be hard pressed to find a square kilometre which isn’t marked by an empty white wall. The country is littered with it. Three-story shophouses peeking over yellow-lined roads. Walls. Derelict parking lots at the foot of towering skyscrapers. Walls. Malls with side alleys that open up into drainage canals. Walls. These blank canvases are in no short supply. What Singapore lacks is patience, especially when it comes to people marking these walls. In Singapore, vandalism carries the penalty of a SG$2,000 (USD$1,400) fine, imprisonment of up to three years, and as many as eight strokes of the cane.
“If you tag something without permission in Singapore, they will definitely catch you,” Singaporean graffiti artist Song, 25, told VICE.
So when Song first started his journey to becoming a graffiti artist in 2014, he was well aware of the risks involved. He worked around it by dotting the map with overseas travel. Starting in countries closer to home like Indonesia and Hong Kong, he grew bolder and ventured further as his skills improved, eventually travelling to Europe.
“I fell in love with the feeling of satisfaction I got from graffiti and after that, I was obsessed. I realised there was so much more to it and I really wanted to find my way around the medium.”
Encouraged to pursue his interests at a young age, Song gravitated towards fine arts and illustration. The son of an art teacher, he eventually enrolled in an arts institution where he discovered his love for graffiti after a friend introduced him to some artists practising it in an art space in the school. There, he met friend and fellow rascal, Zero.
“I met Zero and some of the crew guys from RSCLS (pronounced ‘rascals’, their art collective) and on my first trip to Hong Kong with them, I got super engrossed with graffiti. We met some of the writers there and we went bombing in the streets and I thought, ‘Fuck, this is crazy, I wish I could do this in Singapore.’”
Bombing is the act of throwing up graffiti on the streets illegally. They’re usually written in balloon or blocky fonts called bubble letters and blockbusters, and often include stylised versions of the artists’ moniker.
“Sometimes I get stifled because there are some really nice walls around Singapore and it’s frustrating because once you come back from a trip, you’re really driven and you’ve got that inspiration, but when you’re back, you can't capitalise on that momentum.”
Song, resisting the urge to commit acts of vandalism in his home country, channeled that creativity into sketching, painting commissioned art pieces to fund his travels, and hanging out with the OG’s of the Singaporean graffiti scene, always eager for the next opportunity to fly abroad and tag his name on a waiting wall.
VICE caught up with Song to talk about what's keeping him busy, his favourite places in Singapore, and where his art is going next.
I believe in… freedom of expression. I think that’s very important right now. People need to see more art, not just visual art. It’s important because art sets the mood and helps people go through things. It’s very powerful so I believe that art is essential for having the freedom of expression for everyone.
My friends say I am… clumsy. There were a lot of times where I’ve fallen while painting. There’s just a ton of stupid stories.
But I like to think I am… adventurous. I just want to experience things, I don’t really think twice, I just do it.
I've been working on… nothing. I’m just taking a bit of a break and getting back to painting a bit more. Trying to develop a new style, because it’s 2020, and there’s a lot to think about. I might do a solo show in Jakarta with some friends but nothing is really confirmed yet. All in all, I’m just going to paint more.
I am inspired by… anyone I meet with the same passion. Everywhere I go and with any person I meet, I get inspired to do more. It’s their mentality that inspires me. Some people I meet think about painting spots every day, I don’t even do that, so that’s where I get my inspiration.
Recently I've been really into… connecting more with the scene. Getting people together more often, at least once a week, to just hang out, chill, and paint. The guys from the other graffiti crews, SIC7, the Black Book guys, Rscls, Kringe and Krome, and Jaba. For me, it’s really nice to see everyone together.
You can usually find me at… Aliwal Arts Centre, the Kampong Glam area, or Marsiling. Aliwal and Kampong Glam are basically where my studio is, so I’m there all the time. My friends are there all the time too. I live in Marsiling so those are the only two places I go to.
On bad days, I… go for a drink and chill out.
I live for… creating more. I’m really curious about what I’m going to create in the future, I’ll never know unless I do it. So I live for that curiosity and the urge to see what I develop. I live for pushing myself.
In five years… I might be somewhere else. I might not even be in Singapore, I might be based overseas for a while. I’ve always wanted to be in a new environment for an extended period. So yeah. In five years, I’ll be somewhere, or nowhere.