Looking at Penang as a heritage destination known for its street art and murals, it is surprising to think that these forms of artistic expressions used to and still is banned in many places around the world. In Singapore, street art is permitted only at certain venues such *SCAPE and the Somerset Skate Park. Anywhere else would result the work in being categorised as vandalism instead of art, with severe consequences such as jail time.
However, places in The West are more open to embracing such freedom of expression on public property. So no surprise that Professional Spraycationers Yok & Sheryo are based in Brooklyn, New York while travelling often. Originally from Australia and Singapore respectively, they work on street art to large scale installations.
Their formative years were split between New York and South East Asia - their respective backgrounds and culture influencing their work creatively.
Share with us your first exposure to street art culture.
Yok: Walking around back alleys way in Barcelona in the late 90's was my first time I saw this artform on mass covering all the walls, floor, windows everything.
Sheryo: I never knew anything about street art or graffiti till I met some skateboarding dudes who asked me to go paint with them. I was intimidated by the medium, but was hooked on it and wanted to paint everyday. I was exposed to it more when I began traveling and painting, but moving to NY was when I got to know a lot more about the culture and its roots. Haha, I was a frog in a well when I started....
What was your individual practices like before Yok and Sheryo?
S: No fun painting alone.
Coming from different cultures and cultures, did that inform your collaborations in any way?
Y: Our first painting together was in Cambodia, the culture there informed our paintings as we were strongly influenced by our surroundings and temples that we were visiting. I never would have thought what a long lasting effect that would have on our work, we still use a lot of gold in our work and this was inspired by these first few days messing around in Phnom Penh.
S: Yeah! I love including my Singapore/Southeast Asian influences into everything, from food, to conversations, to inside jokes, so our artwork is the same, East meets West. Our artwork is pretty much an extension of our personalities, cultures and humor.
Were there any initial difficulties or negotiations?
Y: Not really, it just flowed naturally right from the start.
S: It was pretty natural, no negotiations, no tears. Just coffee in the morning, drawing, beers in the evening, drawing. Then ride bicycles whenever we got bored. The simple life.
What draws you towards street art, instead of mediums like canvases or body painting?
Y: The outdoors, travel and painting with friends.
S: Body painting? HAHAHA. We like being outdoors, traveling, and having fun in the sun too much.
What are your inspirations behind your work?
S: Traveling and meeting strange people, being in a different place with a different culture very often.
Do you think street art’s slowly becoming more accepted in conservative countries?
Y: Yes. It's turning quickly into a commodity which is horrible to see.
S: Being accepted finally is great, but also is a double edged sword. Many people are starting to see that this art form is valuable and precious, and that it is becoming one of the largest art movements in the world...
What’s the biggest change street art can bring to the world?
Y: It gives people a way to express themselves, or protest against some things, or draw attention to an issue or topic.
S: The ability to say something that matters and put it out there so easily to the world.