Singapore needs to address issues of freedom, says urban artist Trase One – The Canvas interview

CONTEMPORARY ART GRAFFITI SINGAPORE

In a recent interview with online magazine The Canvas, Trase One discusses his motivations, themes and the state of the arts in Singapore. This urban artist relishes debate inspired by works that discuss the lack of freedom in his home country.

Trase One, 'If you took the bait, you will get hooked, like a fish!'2011, Enamel paint, red wool string on canvas, 12in x 47in. Image from Utterlyart.com.sg

Trase One, 'If you took the bait, you will get hooked, like a fish!' 2011, enamel paint, red wool string on canvas, 12" x 47". In "FreeThem" at Utterly Art, Singapore. Image courtesy Utterly Art.

Click here to read the full interview with Singaporean artist Trase One on online culture magazine The Canvas and click here to browse Trase One’s blog.

Singaporean-born Trase One has built a career of making politically motivated work that questions social issues and notions of freedom. He has been producing art since childhood and attributes his desire to create to his mother and “pure boredom.” Trase experiments with a variety of mediums and styles such as stenciling, sculpture and mixed media and states that the core of his practice stems from having a solid artistic base from which to build from.

Singapore lacks freedom, says Trase One

Trase is strongly motivated by social concerns. His recent exhibition “FreeThem” and the graffiti series “Shadow Skaters” explore notions of social and political freedom, both values he feels are underdeveloped  in his home country of Singapore. People in city state, he says, “are [so] bound by the constant pressure to chase papers that we forget how to sit back, sip a cup of ‘Milo Dinosaur‘ and laugh at the dude who just sat on a freshly painted bench.”

Trase One, 'Working the System' 2011, Enamel paint, red wool string on canvas, 36in x 18in x 3pcs. In 'FreeThem' at Utterly Art, Singapore.

Trase One, 'Working the System' 2011, Enamel paint, red wool string on canvas, 36in x 18in x 3pcs. In 'FreeThem' at Utterly Art, Singapore. Image courtesy Utterly Art.

Throughout his career, in an effort to confront this lack of freedom, Trase has sought an “honest commentary” based on his own personal experiences. He feels that any consequences he faces for his politically challenging works would only strengthen their message.

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.

Always against the grain

This desire to question the status quo not only inspires his subject matter and the theories behind his art but also infiltrates his technique. Trase frequently changes materials and style, seeing this as a visual representation of much broader intentions.

[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. … 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.

Humour makes works approachable

Trase’s vast and eclectic body of work is united by his use of wit and fun. He seeks to create works that are approachable and readable for all audiences. Even if the original intention of the work is not fully comprehended he hopes that the viewer will at least respond to its humorous insight. Not desiring acknowledgement, Trase tries to make art that will “bridge gaps between two opposing elements to be the voice of possibilities and … speak up for things that are afraid to be spoken about.”

Trase One, 'Transparency 2' 2011, Enamel paint, red wool string on canvas, 30in x 40in. In 'FreeThem' at Utterly Art, Singapore.

Trase One, 'Transparency 2' 2011, enamel paint, red wool string on canvas, 30" x 40". In 'FreeThem' at Utterly Art, Singapore. Image courtesy Utterly Art.

Singapore’s cultural state

While Trase One sees a lot of potential for the arts in Singapore, he notes that local audiences are not yet in a position to fully embrace and sustain a thriving art scene. There is, he says, “barely enough to sustain a rich creative culture.” The suggested remedy? “I guess what we need … eventually [is] someone who’s willing to invest not only financially, but also in terms of giving opportunities to cultivate experimental ideas.”

Graffiti art in Singapore

Graffiti continues to tread the line between art form and vandalism, despite its growing popularity. In some cities, such as in Melbourne, Australia, street art is a tolerated and even celebrated part of the urban environment. Singapore, Trase says, is gradually coming to accept the inevitability of graffiti-adorned city space.

It [graffiti art] opens up a lot of doors for kids who have great potential … but needed something to connect themselves to,… just to give themselves a push start in the art world. … The real challenge is seeing how long they can sustain themselves.

Trase One, 'Life Size Study' 2011, In-situ, Singapore. Image courtesy of the artist.

Trase One, 'Life Size Study' 2011, in-situ (Singapore). Image courtesy of the artist.

The worry for Trase is that the art form is being perceived as a “passing fad” and this is something he feels could ultimately diminish the power of the medium.

[The graffiti scene in Singapore has] 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 because everyone seems to be jumping on the bandwagon. … Once this happens, it can be quite a struggle to maintain the passion [in the scene].

Trase One, 'Untitled' 2011, In-situ, Singapore. Image courtesy of the artist.

Trase One, 'Untitled' 2011, in-situ (Singapore). Image courtesy of the artist.

More on Trase One

Trase One first entered the urban art scene as a self-trained grafitti artist in 1999. Since then he has become renowned for producing humorous works, often with a politically motivated message. In 2005 he was granted the inaugural Goh Chok Tong Youth Promise Award by the Yayasan Mendaki organisation to further his art education. Trase graduated from LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts in 2007 with an Honour’s degree in Fine Arts. In recent years, Trase has exhibited internationally and received several awards in recognition of his unique style and practice.

JM/KN/HH

Related Topics: Southeast Asian artists, street art, graffiti, political art

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