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Maintaining this level of standardised, controlled comfort would seem to be unrealistic. The diversity of ideas, feelings, emotions and thoughts that we as humans experience need an outlet, there’s pressure in the system.

Representing a part that cannot be bought into line is a small but established group of graffiti artists. They ensure a little piece of chaotic expressionism rumbles below the spotless buses and the clean streets.

The Gas Haus Music Bar in Bugis was showcasing some of the local talent from the scene. But first we wanted to find out more about people behind the tags – the ones handling the cans. In a frank exchange I asked some questions about this covert, and essentially illegal, art form. Ohrel and Clogtwo filled me in and told me why we should be taking this seriously.

Think: So what’s the appeal – why do it?

Clogtwo: I’ve met a load of people through it, there’s a social element. We meet up, share ideas, just have some fun. This isn’t all I do, I’m into digital art and graphics too – graffiti is part of a whole scene of creativity.

Ohrel: It’s about getting your name known, using the tags, and it’s about getting graffiti art known in Singapore – this is really important.

Ohrel

Think: OK, but how about the illegal stuff? What’s the deal with that side of things?

Clogtwo: It means we’re underground, people don’t know us, but they know of us. We’re not known by our real names.

Ohrel: There’s legal and illegal graffiti art, there’s not much legal space at the minute. We’re hoping that changes soon because there’s so many of us we need more space, not just the skate park at Orchard. As for the illegal stuff, it’s a thrill. Often it’s covered up, painted over in a matter of hours but whilst it’s there people see it, see your work and your name – it’s worth it just for that short time. Part of it’s about taking risks – motivating you to do more and more, pushing yourself.

Clogtwo: You can get respect from some people for the risks you take.

Think: Would the illegal stuff happen if there were more legal space?

Ohrel: Yea {laughing at that one!} – but it’s about numbers. There are lots of people trying to get their work out there.

clogtwoThink: What are you trying to say to us with your work? What does it all mean?

Ohrel: There are messages behind the work, we use colours metaphorically, like in Chinese culture. Also phrases and images are used.

Clogtwo: We design our own images as well as using stuff from comic books and other graphic art material.

Think: Wow, I thought you just got some spray pant out and played around, do you actually plan stuff?

Ohrel: We plan the work, especially big stuff. We use some IT but mostly freehand {during our chat I discovered this guy’s an art student – as in regular art with paper and stuff}.

Think: OK here’s the obvious question – how come you call it art, others would call it vandalism, or at the very least just graffiti minus the art label?

Ohrel: like any other form of art it has loads of practitioners, and for every one of those people it’s about individual expression. It’s about freedom of expression – we use bright colours and images to portray emotions and ideas, just like other artists. It’s also about making the place more beautiful…

Think: So you’re arguing graffiti is aesthetically enhancing, I’ve never heard that before…

Ohrel: Just open your eyes to it, everyone focuses on the tags but it’s so much more then that. If we can expand people’s understanding we can help them appreciate it.

Clogtwo: We’re often stereotyped as vandals but plenty of us stick to the legal stuff.

Ohrel: The association with Black gang culture in the USA doesn’t help….

Think: I was going to ask about that – spray paint graffiti is associated with the Black American community who felt they were oppressed by society. Is your art an expression of frustration in the face of oppression?

Ohrel: We’re not oppressed by our Government, so it’s not the same – for lots of graffiti artists this is about a way to spend time or about breaking into the contemporary art scene. We want to change the perception people have of graffiti art and make it more positive. We’re restricted in what we can do, punishments are severe.

Think: That’s cool – it’s like you want to create you’re own brand of graffiti art – rather then doing the old emulate the west thing.

Ohrel: Every country has it’s own style. The graffiti art scene here reaches out into a whole set of sub cultures where people come together to share and enjoy art, music and fashion. Some relate the art back to hip-hop and rap, others are into totally different music. There is a community though, including online sites.

Clogtwo: There’s a link back to skater culture too – people have taken the look and ideas they see in skate films and shows.

Think: So how about the reality of being a graffiti artist, reckon parents aren’t going to be keen and what about the penalties for the illegal stuff?

Ohrel: My parents were worried to begin with, but as it became legitimate stuff I was working on they got happier. Also now I’m earning money from it that makes a difference.

Clogtwo: Making money certainly changes people’s minds about it.

Ohrel: As for the punishments, its jail, community service and canings if you get caught. Long term it can be difficult to get a job or entry into education if you have criminal record.

Think: That’s tough, in the west jail records wouldn’t matter too much in certain lines of work – especially in the art scene. Are you tempted to get out of here?

Ohrel: It’s certainly freer in other countries, but I want to make a difference here. Travelling to other countries to gather ideas would be great, but I want to bring it back here and change people’s attitudes here. We’re a democracy, but we’re not allowed to live democratically – we can’t express ourselves. Everyone is comfortable so there’s not much variety in terms of political views or ideas – being comfortable is good but perhaps we’re too comfy.

Think: Great – that’s what Singapore needs, people who want to make a future. What’s you’re individual future going to look like? An exhibition at the SAM?

Ohrel: That’d be great – acceptance of graffiti art as an art form as well, stop people thinking it’s vulgar. More events like this one at the Gas Haus too.

Clogtwo: Lots more events and chances to show our work, and to change people’s minds.


To find out more about the graffiti art thang checkout: www.clog02.deviantart.com, www.concreteartist.blogspot.com, www.artcrimes.com/ashd, www.asno.tk