An eye for design

Art group Tell Your Children is behind the artwork on hoardings for the new Uniqlo flagship

Tell Your Children's (top, from left) Kevin Too, Russell Ong, Deon Phua and Lydia Yang customised jeans and jackets for Levi's (above).
Tell Your Children's (above, from left) Kevin Too, Russell Ong, Deon Phua and Lydia Yang customised jeans and jackets for Levi's. PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

A young art collective has been making its mark on the commercial design scene here.

In less than three years since its debut, Tell Your Children has painted murals and created artwork for clients such as MTV, denim wear brand Levi's and Singapore music festival Baybeats.

The collective is made up of 24- year-olds Lydia Yang, Russell Ong and Deon Phua, and Kevin Too, 26.

In the coming weeks, the public will get to see its designs on the hoardings of the new Uniqlo flagship in Orchard Central. The store is scheduled to open in the second half of this year, according to a Uniqlo spokesman.

Tell Your Children was contracted for the job by Uniqlo and Mr Pann Lim, 43, co-founder and creative director of creative agency Kinetic Singapore, which does advertising for the Japanese fast-fashion brand. Mr Lim says he picked the collective because of its "energy" and illustration style.

Tell Your Children's Kevin Too, Russell Ong, Deon Phua and Lydia Yang customised jeans and jackets for Levi's (above). PHOTO: TELL YOUR CHILDREN

These were the same reasons that won over Ms Michelle Wong, assistant marketing and communications manager of watch brand Swatch. The group did an art installation on the walls of the Swatch store in Ion Orchard in October last year.

Ms Wong, 31, says: "The members have a distinctive voice in their works, with an influence of street culture and psychedelic tones. When we met them, their passion and enthusiasm won us over."

The quartet met while studying visual communication at Temasek Polytechnic. Mr Too graduated in April 2011 and the rest a year later.

Instead of competing against one another for work, they decided to band together to form the collective in 2013. They made their debut as a group in January 2014 with an exhibition titled The Very First Show, made up of their individual artworks as well as a 100x150cm canvas they worked on together, titled Food Fight.

Says Mr Phua: "The exhibition was our first big break because it introduced us to the design and creative scene in Singapore."

The group is named after the original working title of 1936 American film Reefer Madness, which was Tell Your Children.

The members describe their style as "street meets tropical".

They landed their first commercial project two months before their debut exhibition for the shared offices of alcohol brands' Hendrick's Gin and Sailor Jerry. They painted a mural of roses and cucumbers for Hendrick's Gin, inspired by the gin's rose and cucumber infusion; and a Hawaiian hula girl for Sailor Jerry.

The brands got to know the collective through a mutual contact.

Artwork for visual merchandising and store displays for fashion brands such as Melissa shoes, Swatch and online fashion retailer Zalora followed last year, along with graphics for MTV Asia's World Stage concert in Malaysia.

This year has been just as productive: The group worked on the key visuals for Baybeats; painted a mural at Pearl's Hill Care Home; did a customisation workshop for American fashion brand Levi's customers in May; and led art workshops for American shoe brand Vans.

Although all the members are trained in illustration, Ms Yang and Mr Ong execute the artworks while Mr Phua and Mr Too do more administrative tasks such as dealing with clients and preparing paint materials for their mural works.

All four conceptualise artwork designs together. They work out of a studio in Tanjong Katong Road. Mr Phua says the group's advantage is in having four creative minds to tap on for ideas.

"We approach projects in an unconventional way. Because the four of us bring our inspirations to the table, we come up with unique concepts and artworks which I think are comparable with artists and illustrators on a global scale."

They do not have a preference for working with fashion brands over non-fashion ones.

As to how they agree on a project, Mr Ong says: "It has to feed either the stomach or the soul."

In an effort to feed the soul, the collective makes it a point to balance commercial projects with personal ones, such as the upcoming Trashold exhibition in October at its Tanjong Katong studio. It will show seven to 10 jackets that will be customised with embroidery, paint work and sewn-on patches made from their old clothing.

Mr Phua says: "When we do client work, we have to follow a brief. But with these kinds of projects, we have full creative control and it gives us an outlet to express ourselves."

He says they plan to turn Tell Your Children into an umbrella brand that will house their individual projects and initiatives in the future. He adds: "We don't want to be just a one-time thing. We want to create a legacy."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 23, 2016, with the headline An eye for design. Subscribe