Singapore is playing host to an exhibition by Futura, one of the world’s most celebrated street artists, heralding a new age of graffiti. Curator Jahan Loh talks through Asia’s emerging potential in urban art.
From his early days tagging trains to his later career gracing the walls of museums and galleries and collaborating with the likes of Nike, Levis and Louis Vuitton, graffiti artist Futura, otherwise known as ‘the godfather of street art,’ has left an unforgettable mark on modern culture. A trailblazer and rebel in New York’s art scene of the 1970s and 1980s, he captured the world’s attention with his poetic, abstract street art at a time when graffiti mostly took the form of lettering. Having taken up residence in Singapore last year to create a new body of work, his first solo exhibition in Asia, CONSTELLATION, is now opening in the city. Curated by artist – and longtime Futura fan – Jahan Loh, the exhibition is breathing new life into the region’s own street-art culture. Jahan sat down with Hive Life to talk about why it’s time for Asia to get in on the graffiti game.
Futura’s creative journey began in the early 1970s in typical graffiti artist fashion – spray-painting on subway trains. Back then, graffiti was considered more of a nuisance than a viable art form. It wasn’t until later that decade when Futura returned home to NYC from his 4-year stint in the Navy that he found himself on the cusp of a new movement as street art began to gain ground in his hometown. Together with other pioneering artists such as Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, he strove to expand graffiti beyond its demonised public image. 40 years on, the New York artist continues to break down the barriers between street, commercial and fine art, stamping his distinctive style on everything from graphic design to illustration, photography to clothing design.
“I have always been a huge fan of Futura’s work,” says Jahan, recalling his first encounter with the maverick artist back in 2002. “His abstract graffiti, his life story, and personality gained my respect and love.” For him, Futura was one of the most underrated artists working today. “It’s funny that many people only know one dimension of his art. The art world understands so little about Futura as an artist and his practice. And, through this show, I hope to let people know the art of Futura 2000,” he explains of the upcoming exhibition’s objective.
Teaming up with Mr Chong and Ning Chong, the father-daughter duo behind Singapore art salon The Culture Story, Jahan has curated an exhibition dedicated to the godfather of street art. Titled CONSTELLATION, it showcases 30 specially commissioned pieces created during Futura’s two-week residency at The Culture Story last October. “A lot of the narrative goes back to his first visit to Singapore as a young marine back in 1979,” Jahan elaborates. “The supercarrier he was stationed on was named ‘Constellation.’”
The CONSTELLATION series is an amalgamation of “the various styles and elements of Futura’s art in relation to Singapore as the place of creation and exhibition.” One standout piece in this series is the large-scale painting ‘Rain Forest.’ Inspired by the tropical landscape of the country and created by wrinkling a painted canvas, an innovative technique that stems from tie-dying, ‘Rain Forest’ is the epitome of Futura’s creative style, showcasing his mastery of the medium and his unconventional approach to creating different textures and impressions.
“Street art is the pop art of today, but it’s also arguably the most misunderstood medium of them all, wrongly considered by many to be bordering on vandalism,” Jahan says. That, and the lack of representation of street art in Asia’s mainstream art scene are the two major catalysts that have set this project in motion. “When I moved back to Singapore in 2012, I felt that there was a lack of art exhibitions featuring authentic street art which speak to me and my peers,” he says. Now, by bringing Futura’s creations to Singapore, he hopes to encourage a new wave of interest – just as Futura did back in the 1970s.
As Jahan sees it, CONSTELLATION is just one part of the bigger push towards a greater appreciation for street art in Asia’s art space. “Street art is taking over. Actually, it’s already happened when street art in Sotheby’s and Christie’s is fetching record high prices,” he says. “Will this pass in time or will urban art always be in a rough and misdirected spot? Time will tell.”
CONSTELLATION is showing at The Culture Story
Date: 30 May to 9 June 2019
Address: Gillman Barracks, Lock Road, Block 9 #02-21