Seats with a twist

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 29, 2013

Singapore’s pioneering graffiti artist Mazlan Ahmad tells PAIGE LIM his journey of designing the 500 chairs to be displayed at this year’s Fashion Steps Out catwalk finale.

The models traipsing down Singapore's premier shopping street will not be the only star attraction at this year's Orchard Runway Show.

Five hundred specially designed chairs will share the limelight at the catwalk finale on May 4.

To give this year's event a twist, Orchard Road Business Association (Orba), the organiser of the annual Fashion Steps Out, engaged Singapore street artist Mazlan Ahmad to hand-paint the foldable plastic chairs meant for VIPs and guests.

Plain wooden bleachers were used last year. Mr Steven Goh, Orba's executive director, says: "Pop art is in line with the spring/summer fashion theme. These pop art chairs will add colour and creativity to the runway show, and also an element of fun for the invited guests."

Better known by his street name, Skope, Mr Mazlan, 37, is widely regarded as Singapore's pioneering graffiti artist.

He was introduced to graffiti art in 1986 and became a full-time graffiti artist in 1994.

He has been credited with raising the awareness of the art movement here through exhibiting his work in countries such as Britain and the United States.

He was also invited to display his works in Spain's Fundacio Joan Miro, a famous modern art museum in Barcelona, from January to April in 2010.

In Singapore, his murals can be found at the lobby of W Singapore - Sentosa Cove hotel and in the office of Facebook Singapore, both of which commissioned the works.

Although Mr Mazlan came up with 10 broad design themes for FSO with 50 chairs sharing each concept, no two chairs are alike.

He says he drew inspiration from pop artists Andy Warhol and Keith Haring for his designs, which marry street art and pop art.

"The organisers wanted traditional pop art designs for the chairs but I suggested adding some elements from street culture to give them a nice twist," he says.

He was paid for this but declines to reveal the amount.

Mr Mazlan began painting the chairs two weeks ago, taking between three and 10 minutes to complete each one. On average, he paints 40 chairs a day.

Although he jokingly describes the job as "clowning around with paint", he notes: "I have done many big projects before but this is the most time-consuming one so far."

When Urban visited him at his studio in an industrial park in Ubi last Thursday, he had already completed 120 chairs.

Guests at last night's opening party and media preview were given a sneak peek of some of the chairs - he delivered the first 150 chairs for the private party.

Mr Mazlan, who is married with no children, says the biggest challenge of the job is coping with the strong fumes from his spray paint as he works on many chairs at the same time.

He is not complaining though.

"I may have to go through a lot of hard work to complete all 500 designs, but the satisfaction at the end of it will be immense," he says.

He adds, half in jest: "Perhaps the audience will be in awe of how many chairs I've managed to paint."

Orba plans to sell as many of the chairs as possible after the event, with the proceeds going to a charity that has yet to be confirmed.

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1 Camouflage Style

One of my top three favourite designs. To me, the camouflage print represents rebellion as it is a form of disguise. Instead of the usual military camouflage pattern, I have incorporated other cheeky and quirky shapes such as the heart shape and lightning bolt.

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2 Splatter Style

This is another one of my favourite designs as it is very playful. The splatter design is easier to do than the rest because I can mess around more with the colours.

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3 Abstract Style

Another top three favourite. I like doing this design because I do not have to regulate or restrict my style in any way. I am free to interpret it however I want.

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4 Organic Abstract Style

While the abstract style incorporates more geometric shapes, the organic abstract design uses more waves, swirls and flowy shapes.

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5 Random Pop Art Elements Style

Like the name suggests, this design encompasses all types of random pop art shapes, such as stars, checkerboards and lips. They overlap and are layered upon one another to create a fun look.

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6 Street Layering Style

This design is easy for me to do because of my experience in street art. All the chairs have random words spray painted on them, such as my name and the event's name, FSO.

The words are often unreadable after many layers of paint.

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7 Triangle Style

This design is the most difficult and tedious to complete, as it requires the use of stencils and masking tape to create the rigid geometric shapes.

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8 Line Art Style

This design is characterised by all sorts of line patterns of different shapes.

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9 & 10 Asiatic Style 1 & 2

These designs have an Oriental feel to them and include nature elements that represent Asia, such as the bonsai tree and sakura. Style 1 encompasses more graphic nature elements, while Style 2 focuses more on florals.

Singapore's pioneering graffiti artist Mazlan Ahmad tells PAIGE LIM his journey of designing the 500 chairs to be displayed at this year's Fashion Steps Out catwalk finale.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 29, 2013

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