Painting the town: 2 artists share their love for graffiti

Painting the town: 2 artists share their love for graffiti | Free Malaysia Today (FMT)

Painting the town: 2 artists share their love for graffiti

Kenji Chai and Chern talk to FMT Lifestyle about what draws them to this unusual art form.

Kenji Chai is a graffiti artist from Sandakan, Sabah. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

PETALING JAYA: Many people consider graffiti the work of vandals who have nothing better to do with their lives than deface public or private property. Since it is often carried out without permission, it is deemed illegal.

However, graffiti artists have come a long way, and today, there are some who make a living out of drawing graffiti for clients who commission them for their works of art.

One such artist is Sabah-born Kenji Chai, 42, who told FMT Lifestyle that his love for graffiti began in school.

He said he often doodled in class, especially when lessons were boring. “When I drew, time seemed to freeze, and it was just me and my art. It was amazing.”

Naturally, he pursued a course in graphic design and worked a few jobs doing what he was best at.

Chai poses with one of his artworks at Tropicana Gardens Mall in Petaling Jaya. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)

However, after a while, he began to find his work mundane and that’s when he tried his hand at graffiti painting.

He described his first experience of spraying graffiti on a wall as “exhilarating”. “The feeling of time freezing all those years ago came back.”

Describing his art style as mischievous and playful, Chai said he became a full-time graffiti artist after a multinational food chain commissioned him for a job.

He is most famous for Chaigo, a smiling neon-blue dog, who he incorporates in all his artwork. “I named it Chaigo because ‘Chai’ is my surname, and ‘Go’ is dog in Chinese, and I’m born in the year of the dog.”

Chai considers the smiling neon-blue dog called Chaigo, his alter ego. (Kenji Chai pic)

Chaigo, who Chai considers his alter ego, was born out of his compassion for stray dogs, who he said struggled to survive on the streets. He said he could relate to their plight as he too struggled to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of the city.

It is through Chaigo that he hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams as he did. “You can’t please everyone, so it’s important to persevere and stay true to yourself.”

KL-born Chern quit his graphic designer job to become a full-time graffiti artist. (Moganraj Villavan @ FMT Lifestyle)

Another graffiti artist, Chern, who goes by the name Cloakwork, attributed his interest in art to his mother, a retired teacher.

“One of the subjects she taught was art, and I remember being intrigued by the paintings she brought home to grade,” the 32-year-old said.

His interest in graffiti painting took root when he participated in a graffiti-based competition in school, and was mentored by experienced artists on how to use a can of spray paint.

So deep was his newfound love for graffiti, that he would descend on the “River of Life” in the Pasar Seni area every single weekend to practise his art with scores of other graffiti artists too.

For Chern, every painting begins with a detailed sketch. (Moganraj Villavan @ FMT Lifestyle)

After quitting his job as a graphic designer, he threw himself full-time into graffiti painting. “I prefer clients who respect my creativity, so that I don’t lose myself.”

Using his artwork to tell a story and spread positive vibes, he said painting graffiti allowed him to connect with those who did not speak the same language.

He sometimes uses his own money to buy cans of spray paint so he can beautify his surroundings by painting eye-catching graffiti on dirty or ugly walls.

Chern transforms his pencil sketch into a colourful masterpiece. (Moganraj Villavan @ FMT Lifestyle)

Is painting graffiti legal?

Chern recalled how he spent one night in the lock-up after a security guard called the police on him as he was covering up vulgar words painted on a wall.

“It was bizarre getting locked up and seeing actual criminals who did serious crimes in there with me. I ended up paying a fine.”

Chai thankfully had it better. He said some residents have actually handed him and his friends food as they worked, simply because they liked their graffiti.

“I’ve also had others who demanded we paint the wall back to its original state, which we obliged.”

Follow Chai and Chern on their respective social media platforms here and here.

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It was amazing.”u003c/pu003enu003cpu003eNaturally, he pursued a course in graphic design and worked a few jobs doing what he was best at.u003c/pu003enu003cfigure id=”attachment_2671328″ aria-describedby=”caption-attachment-2671328″ style=”width: 800px” class=”wp-caption alignnone”u003eu003cimg loading=”lazy” class=”size-full wp-image-2671328″ src=”https://darealhiphop.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/c3dfca16-side.jpg” alt=”” width=”800″ height=”500″ /u003eu003cfigcaption id=”caption-attachment-2671328″ class=”wp-caption-text”u003eChai poses with one of his artworks at Tropicana Gardens Mall in Petaling Jaya. (Muhaimin Marwan @ FMT Lifestyle)u003c/figcaptionu003eu003c/figureu003enu003cpu003eHowever, after a while, he began to find his work mundane and that’s when he tried his hand at graffiti painting.u003c/pu003enu003cpu003eHe described his first experience of spraying graffiti on a wall as “exhilarating”. “The feeling of time freezing all those years ago came back.”u003c/pu003enu003cpu003eDescribing his art style as mischievous and playful, Chai said he became a full-time graffiti artist after a multinational food chain commissioned him for a job.u003c/pu003enu003cpu003eHe is most famous for Chaigo, a smiling neon-blue dog, who he incorporates in all his artwork. “I named it Chaigo because ‘Chai’ is my surname, and ‘Go’ is dog in Chinese, and I’m born in the year of the dog.”u003c/pu003enu003cfigure id=”attachment_2671325″ aria-describedby=”caption-attachment-2671325″ style=”width: 440px” class=”wp-caption aligncenter”u003eu003cimg loading=”lazy” class=”size-full wp-image-2671325″ src=”https://darealhiphop.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/c6989d05-chaigo.png” alt=”” width=”440″ height=”676″ /u003eu003cfigcaption id=”caption-attachment-2671325″ class=”wp-caption-text”u003eChai considers the smiling neon-blue dog called Chaigo, his alter ego. (Kenji Chai pic)u003c/figcaptionu003eu003c/figureu003enu003cpu003eChaigo, who Chai considers his alter ego, was born out of his compassion for stray dogs, who he said struggled to survive on the streets. He said he could relate to their plight as he too struggled to make it in the dog-eat-dog world of the city.u003c/pu003enu003cpu003eIt is through Chaigo that he hopes to inspire others to follow their dreams as he did. “You can’t please everyone, so it’s important to persevere and stay true to yourself.”u003c/pu003enu003cfigure id=”attachment_2671326″ aria-describedby=”caption-attachment-2671326″ style=”width: 800px” class=”wp-caption alignnone”u003eu003cimg loading=”lazy” class=”size-full wp-image-2671326″ src=”https://darealhiphop.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/23d04882-phone.jpg” alt=”” width=”800″ height=”500″ /u003eu003cfigcaption id=”caption-attachment-2671326″ class=”wp-caption-text”u003eKL-born Chern quit his graphic designer job to become a full-time graffiti artist. (Moganraj Villavan @ FMT Lifestyle)u003c/figcaptionu003eu003c/figureu003enu003cpu003eAnother graffiti artist, Chern, who goes by the name Cloakwork, attributed his interest in art to his mother, a retired teacher.u003c/pu003enu003cpu003e“One of the subjects she taught was art, and I remember being intrigued by the paintings she brought home to grade,” the 32-year-old said.u003c/pu003enu003cpu003eHis interest in graffiti painting took root when he participated in a graffiti-based competition in school, and was mentored by experienced artists on how to use a can of spray paint.u003c/pu003enu003cpu003eSo deep was his newfound love for graffiti, that he would descend on the “River of Life” in the Pasar Seni area every single weekend to practise his art with scores of other graffiti artists too.u003c/pu003enu003cfigure id=”attachment_2671329″ aria-describedby=”caption-attachment-2671329″ style=”width: 800px” class=”wp-caption alignnone”u003eu003cimg loading=”lazy” class=”size-full wp-image-2671329″ src=”https://darealhiphop.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/01/0967acd1-sketch.jpg” alt=”” width=”800″ height=”500″ /u003eu003cfigcaption id=”caption-attachment-2671329″ class=”wp-caption-text”u003eFor Chern, every painting begins with a detailed sketch. 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