Modern & Contemporary Southeast Asian Art

Painting the Town: A New Style of Street Art in Singapore

By Sotheby's
In ultra-clean and green Singapore, a booming arts and design community is injecting colour into public space. PHUNK and Ripple Root, two members of this creative community, are capturing the city’s imagination through eye-catching artworks and expansive murals that repurpose Asian ornamentation, mythological themes, and folkloric elements in bright and graphic scenes.

I n the case of Ripple Root – formed by Liquan Liew and Estella Ng – Singapore’s backdrop of lush forests, mangroves, and tropical vegetation is the source of carefree and whimsical scenes. Inspired by the works of Henri Matisse, David Hockney, and Karel Appel, as well as artists in the National Gallery of Singapore such as Wu GuanZhong, the duo’s practice has been described as “New-Age Fauvism.” Ripple Root’s abstract figurative style captures birds, plants, mudskippers, turtles, and more, along with urban scenes that populate communal spaces across the city.

Ripple Root created a mural in Keong Saik Alley in Chinatown in 2016.

Liew and Ng, who met while working at a design agency, come from visual communications and fine arts backgrounds respectively. The coming together of these two minds results in an unmistakable style that has been in demand by clients such as Twitter, the National Gallery of Singapore, CapitaLand, and MUJI. In 2016, the pair were commissioned by The Working Capitol to create a mural in Keong Saik Alley in Chinatown, which has become one of the most recognisable street-art sites in the city. Inspired by Singapore’s growth “from swamp to civilization,” Ripple Root’s style resonates with the youthful energy of a city on the rise. Their art can be found in fashionable eating and dining hotspots from the members club Straits Clan to the bàcari Cicheti on Kandahar Street.

Ripple Root’s work can be found in fashionable eating and dining hotspots.

Urban myths are conjured in the works of four-person contemporary art and design collective, PHUNK. Alvin Tan, Melvin Chee, Jackson Tan, and William Chan met as students at LASALLE, and after a brief attempt to form a band, the group decided to channel their talents to design—a trajectory that has established PHUNK as a “champion of Singapore’s graphic scene” since their founding in 1994.

PHUNK’s graphic approach to image-making is defined by bold lines and colours. Quirky characters and urban elements mushroom across sculptures, silkscreens, canvas, collage, and more. The collective has incorporated sources ranging from wuxia martial-arts pulp fiction and Japanese manga to traditional Chinese folklore. Their works that have been shown in exhibitions across the globe, including Universality at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei in 2007 and the Gwangju Design Biennale, where they represented Singapore in 2005.

International exhibitions have seen Ripple Root create canvases in a collaborative fashion akin to their murals, taking turns to conjure distinctly Singaporean scenes. See You at the Satay Club, painted in 2019, depicts the street stalls that had been ubiquitous in Singapore before the city had set up hawker centres in the 1970s to keep the eateries in order. The work will be offered in the Southeast Asia Contemporary Art mid-season sale alongside surrealistic silkscreens on kakita paper by PHUNK that have been created in collaboration with legendary Japanese pop artist, Keiichi Tanaami.

Banner image: Ripple Root, A Spring in Your Step

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