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Graffiti in Singapore: How Anyone Can Make Street Art [Video]

Graffiti exists in a precarious position in Singapore, where the hand that sprays it risks a fine, imprisonment or caning. On the other hand, they are admired as an artist, master of their craft. Either way, graffiti as a medium remains elusive to the public.

By Joy Lai

Hesitantly walking through an opened side gate of an industrial building, I pulled out the Google Maps on my phone to check if I was at the right place. My current location, marked by a blue arrow on the map, swivelled as I turned, confirming that the unassuming, grey building in front of me, was indeed my destination.

Finding no main entrance, I took a small flight of stairs by the side of the building leading to a landing with a pair of service lifts. The place was quiet; the few people there barely spared me a glance as they worked, loading and moving things around.

Feeling sorely out of place, I quickly took the lift up to the third floor, unsure of what I would find. However, all uncertainty swiftly left me as I walked out the lift doors and a set of metal doors came into view. Brightly written in spray paint were the words “Heaven Spot,” and I knew I was at the right place.

Heaven Spot is a space co-founded by Victor and Douglas, Singapore’s first indoor spray paint or graffiti studio. Its name is a graffiti term, literally referring to dangerously high places that artists tag.

“[The term] culturally relates to Singapore, in the sense that, in order to try this medium, it really is that difficult,” Douglas explained, drawing similarities between the difficult-to-reach heaven spots, and graffiti as an art form in Singapore.

The Inaccessibility of Graffiti

Graffiti and the Singapore government have what can only be described as a love-hate relationship. The former is either seen as vandalism or a piece of beautiful street art — the thin line between the two is whether the surface it lies on is an approved wall (find out more about how this came to be here). While the legalising of graffiti and street art removes one barrier of entry for artists, it seems to have created a new one for non-artists.

The public nature of street art immediately makes it intimidating for anyone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Now that they have been incorporated into our cityscape, most prominent at cultural heritage sites like Little India, Chinatown, and Haji Lane, graffiti — or street art — has taken up a whole new level of prestige. It is the beautiful murals on the side of HDB blocks, intricate street art on walls around skateparks, and the graffiti Hall of Fame at Kampong Glam, a literal tourist attraction.

Some say that Singapore’s graffiti laws would allow non-artists to try their hand at the medium, but this is far from the case. Which amateur would dare paint on the giant wall in their neighbourhood in plain sight when they have never held a spray can before? That aside, there is also an underlying fear of accidentally painting on an unapproved wall or of unaware passers-by becoming suspicious that they may be vandalising and ultimately getting in trouble with the law. Regardless, graffiti as an art form or medium remains elusive to most.

Founding Heaven Spot

But these obstacles didn’t stop Victor and Douglas. Neither graffiti artists nor professionals, in a time of boredom during the COVID-19 lockdown back in 2020, came across a wooden pallet lying around and decided to buy a few spray cans to spray it on a whim. It was just something they did for fun, but they soon realised that there was a gap in the market.

“There’s no such place in Singapore where you can actually spray freely, indoors. And that’s our inspiration.”

There are reasons why graffiti is typically found outdoors. Graffiti, historically and culturally, is inherently tied to public spaces because of how it exists as street art. While spray paint as an art medium exists outside public spaces, other challenges prevent most from trying it at home or indoors. The walls outside of buildings are large and spacious, a privilege an indoor studio cannot afford. Plus, the fumes that spray cans release often get too overwhelming in enclosed spaces — Douglas shared how many of their air-conditioning units failed because of the fumes in the room.

Despite these challenges, determined to share the experience of spray painting with the Singaporean public, Victor and Douglas founded Heaven Spot.

[Photo: Heaven Spot]

Trying my hand at spray paint

Walking through the double doors, a room covered in paint from ceiling to floor comes into view. Drawing my attention at once is a bright neon sign hanging on the wall with the words “Heaven Spot.” Comfortably lit by natural light, the square room was split into three corridors by white panels on wheels, decorated with bright paint. Chairs, fans, and air conditioning units were placed haphazardly around the floor. In the dim room, pipes ran above our heads in a corner, and a lamp with a white coat draped over it stood propped up by the window.

Generously offering us a chance to try spray painting, Douglas was also kind enough to explain the basics of how to use a spray can. We were given two boxes full of various colours of spray cans, a gas mask for the fumes and three blank canvases in front of us. Chalk in hand, I got started with my first attempt at spray painting.

Other than the humming of the air-conditioner and the spray from the can, the room was quiet. I found myself clearing my mind to focus on the task in front of me. I found it easy to fall into the motion of tracing the lines of the sketch and filling in the shapes; it was calming and stress relieving. Plus, mistakes don’t matter!

Because of how fast the process is (and how amateur of an artist I am), I made a ton of them. I realised that strokes had to be decisive: any moment of hesitation and it’ll start to drip.

But ultimately, at Heaven Spot, there is no pressure to create something perfect. It’s easy to shrug off the things I didn’t intend to do because this is something I’m creating just for myself, and because these boards regularly get painted over to make space for new art, it won’t be left up for long for people to judge.

Heaven Spot has created a safe space for anyone to try graffiti as an art form or for self-expression, and for anyone who has no idea how to work with this new medium, this is your sign to start exploring. If you want to follow Victor and Douglas’ example and try it out in the comfort of your home, all you have to do is buy the cheapest cans you can find and start spraying.

“In general, you can actually spray paint on anything. Like, literally the fridge over here, we’ve been spraying nonsense on the fridge as well,” Douglas laughed, pointing at a minifridge in front of us, marked with a couple of tags. “But at home, the best thing to spray on, or what I’ve heard of, is some of these kids who are regulars here, their [parents] would set up a large piece of white tarp, and they’ll just spray on it.”

“The other advice I would say is, don’t piss off the neighbours,” Douglas continued humorously, “Because with all the fumes flying out and going into their house, it’s very likely you’re going to piss off the neighbours.”

Victor also shared that YouTube is also a good place to start for any tips and tricks for beginners.

But for those who find it too much of a hassle to gather their own materials or are afraid of making too much of a mess at home, Heaven Spot welcomes you. Like what they did for me, they equip you with tips on operating the spray cans and leave the rest to your imagination.

To all interested beginners out there, a few words of advice from those at Heaven Spot: The first graffiti artists didn’t have teachers. Just mess about and figure it out. Not everyone will become a pro, but most people will achieve a good level with enough dedication.

The most significant barrier to entry to graffiti is yourselves. All you have to do is grab some cans, find an appropriate space, and spray away.