The neighbourhood I grew up in had this concrete wall that remained, against all odds, untouched; an empty expanse of gray so clean that it almost seemed to taunt wayward folk in crudely lining the walls with spray paint, something you’d normally see in the city’s grimy alleyways or mischievously tagged onto the occasional pillar.
Then one day, I see it: this bright, mint-green-and-turquoise dog with its tongue lolling out in a cheeky grin. I was 12 at the time, I think, but I remembered being awestruck by just how vivid it was. I was introduced to Chaigo, and by extension, the man behind the smiling canine, Kenji Chai.
“I was 28 when I dipped my toe into the world of street art—nothing serious as I was still working as a graphic designer at the time,” Chai recalls. “I don’t remember the exact year, it was probably somewhere between 2006 and 2008, but I definitely remember being real jittery for my first time. It was in the dead of night and I was at Kampung Attap with some friends who were graffiti artists themselves. At the time, I kept thinking, ‘What if the police were to come and bust us’, but that was just nerves talking.”
“By the time I hit 30, I sat myself down one day and really thought about what it was that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, because sitting in a chair with nothing but a monitor for company just felt too stagnant. It wasn’t physically engaging enough, you see. Nor did I feel precious about my work. So, after asking a friend to teach me the basics, I quit my old job and got to work.”