Sticker lady, urban artists the next wave of Singapore masters?

Local artists colouring beyond the lines — both literally and figuratively -- has raised much controversy of late.

Remember Samantha Lo, otherwise known by her moniker SKL0 or — more infamously — as the 'Sticker Lady'?

Her transgression: vandalism, all in the name of art. Lo, 25, was the brainchild behind a spate of quirky and humorous slogans, using the mediums of spray-painting and stickers, placed in the public sphere earlier in the year.

Limpeh by SKLO. (28th Février photo)
Limpeh by SKLO. (28th Février photo)

While detractors question her efforts to make her voice heard and her art appreciated in a manner that seemingly disregards the law, supporters have also been vocal in decrying the hoopla surrounding the case. Let artists foster their creativity without constraints, they say — particularly when the 'crime' itself seems minimal to most.

While the gauntlet has yet to fall, SKL0 and other urban artists had the chance to showcase their works recently, as part of a showcase, 'Singapore's Finest'.

The exhibition was held at gallery 28th Février, owned by Dominic Khoo, a strong supporter of the urban arts. A photographer himself, he says he brought a band of local street artists together in an effort to "send the elevator back down", in order that no man is left behind in the march towards artistic progress on the local front.

Khoo says the urban arts is the next wave, and should be allowed the opportunity to develop organically, as well as given the attention it deserves. He believes there should be a focus on collecting and archiving the works of what he terms as "tomorrow's masters". This, especially on the back of the criticism street artists face from some quarters, in their quest to express themselves.

"I think as an artist you always look for what is real, what is true to yourself. And graffiti artists are very much like that. In fact, they have got a quality that almost no other artist has: they spend their time training in secrecy or learning their techniques very quietly. They have exhibitions way before any other artists do, but all their exhibitions are free. They experience ridicule and persecution as well. For many years, most people have just seen their art as vandalism."

Thirst for Dirty Money by SKLO (Photo from 28th Février)
Thirst for Dirty Money by SKLO (Photo from 28th Février)

'Singapore's Finest' included a stable of artists aside from SKL0, such as Trase, Antz, Zero, Jaba and Slacsatu. Khoo's focus is not to highlight the more controversial aspects; rather, he wants to rally support for what has been an underground movement for the most part. To him, the impermanence of graffiti art — by its very nature transient — must be addressed, so that local talent are afforded the critical opportunity to have their works recorded for posterity.

"How do you define something that is slightly rebellious, but yet is in the confines of fine art? You talk about shades of grey when you talk about Rembrandt. Today, we are talking about guys who come with spray cans and think about distance from the wall, amount of drip, stencils, designing... all this with their hearts pounding, spraying and running off, you know? It's a very different thing altogether. I think the very least I could do is to provide a space for these artists, for them to display their art on canvas. So that they can say hey, I can be proud of my work."

The dichotomy that exists seems to be tied to bringing a sense of balance to art forms that are viewed as being on the fringes of the art world, and do not have the support or acceptance that more traditional forms garner. But for the arts scene to flourish truly, then perhaps the dampers need to come off so that obstacles aren't quite so insurmountable for those who express themselves through street art.

Still As High by Antz (Photo from 28th Février)
Still As High by Antz (Photo from 28th Février)

To Khoo, putting things in perspective is important when it comes to the issue of self-expression without borders. Seeing this as an opportunity to course-correct, the gallery owner says rather than focusing on the supposed transgressions of SKL0 and others in the same boat, it is more important to look at the intention behind such works.

"I think they understand that yes, they could get into trouble. That is something they know and accept, but it doesn't make them bad people, right? And intent is very important. Sometimes, proving intent could be one of the toughest things ever. But to understand them as characters, you need to really understand what they do and how you speak for them."

He stresses though, these are not closet recalcitrants — they are artists expressing themselves through mediums that resonate best with them.

"You know, there is actually a lot of integrity with those who are true artists — you can see what they do and what they stand for. I think if you have a particular artist who always speaks about love, you're not going to get some teddy bear killer. I'll be shocked if I find out that he had a stash of dismembered teddy bears in his closet!"

Understanding and embracing street art and the artists behind the movement would likely go a long way towards fostering a truly evolved artistic local landscape. Only then can creativity and freedom of expression have true opportunity to intersect with talent, when barriers to entry and success are diminished or eradicated entirely.