What's it like to partner with Paris Saint-Germain to create football street art?
Ceno2 (real name: Mohammad Azlan Ramlan) starts the interview at the steps in front of his newest artwork, a portrait of a winking boy washed in colours of red and blue. Found in the alley just behind The Mad Men Attic Bar, it's a striking choice of hues, spotlighting an eager fan among a hybrid of Paris and Singapore icons in the background. "This is a picture of a boy and this is the first time PSG is coming to Singapore. They're fresh in the sense that they are visiting Singapore — it's their first time — and a kid's fresh," explained Ceno2.
In a collaboration between Singapore's own graffiti artist and Paris Saint-Germain, two new street art works were birthed to celebrate the football club's arrival in Singapore and the start of their Asia Tour. The 32-year-old Singaporean graffiti artist is a household name locally and internationally for his artworks in cities such as Chicago, New York and London. Fans and his 112,000 following on Instagram will be familiar with his dark shades, curly hair and Homburg hat. But beneath the signature shades — which Ceno2 wears all the time not to look cool but because his eyes are sensitive to light — is an easy-going character, full of laughter and often found with a packet tea in his hand.
"The reason why I started drawing was because my dad drew a big ass Mickey Mouse in my bedroom. And that was when I started giving the Mickey Mouse some friends," said Ceno2. Ceno2 is a likeable one. He is an artist without the ego — an artist for the people. "I never even thought of becoming a graffiti artist but maybe graffiti chose me. It's the only thing that I can make to cheer people up," he adds.
How did the partnership with Paris Saint-Germain come about and what was your reaction to it?
I was painting when they called because I paint every day. When they first contacted me, I was pretty shocked to hear that it was from a football club. I was happy and shocked at the same time. Everything went through smoothly and they gave me the room to be more creative. Years before, there were people who constrained my ideas but PSG just wanted me to be who I am and to do what I was doing best. That is the best thing any artist can ask for.
Why do you think you were chosen for this project?
They told me that the painting styles that I have been working on buildings are different from the norm. The portraits, the expressions, the aura of colours and the portrayal of the characters bring a different feeling to my works and make it interesting to them. That's one of the reasons why they came to me.
What was their reaction when they saw the final works?
They were pretty shocked – in a good way of course. They went like 'oh my god, it's awesome'. That is my number one priority whenever I work for someone, I just want them to be happy. I always give more than what I'm supposed to because I'm putting part of my soul into it and there is more to art than selling.
Are you constrained by the expectations people have of you?
I do paintings not for myself. I do it for the public and for the people. That's why I choose street art because it's meant for the people to view it and not just for selective people like when I do it in galleries. I do it on the streets for the public, for the people to enjoy and experience it. I don't really see myself as an artiste. An artiste does what they want but I'm not doing what I want. I'm doing what I would feel the people want. I grew up in a family where we don't think of ourselves. We learned how to share and the only thing I can share is happiness through good art. Its proven that if you get distracted by something good, you can forget about your problems for at least for a second. I intend to help people through art. My main intention is to bring people together and make them feel better about their day - that's what keeps me painting.
Do you ever get pressured by whether the public will like it?
What's pressure? I never get pressured easily because all my life I have been painting. I don't know what it feels like to be pressured but I believe in one thing — if you take things slow and do it properly, everything will be fine. But I cannot paint when I am happy. I paint very well not under pressure but when I'm angry. If I'm too happy I won't feel like painting, I just feel like hanging out. I'm a very random person. I get mood swings.
Why do you paint along the streets?
I love painting walls because they are created by men and are not being recognised. Those men that have been sweating, putting the bricks and laying the cement. I'm trying to add some beauty into it rather than it remaining as a plain wall. I love humans and everyone should be appreciated in different ways because we are all special. I just want everyone to feel appreciated and recognised.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I just put my stuff in a crowded area and watch people – but not stare at them. I love to be in a crowd where I'm looking for ideas and the vibe. I'm not even listening to whatever that is around me. I just like the action, the movement, the body language by individuals because everyone, every human to me is an art piece themselves. That's one reason why I do portraits depicting human beings because there's always beauty in something.
What's next for you?
I need to see different things. Sometimes I drive around Singapore at night all in one night. There's nothing for me to look forward to. Everything looks the same, everyone dresses the same - they have the same hairstyle and wear the same shoes. Why is everyone the same? Maybe that's why I like to be different. Since I was a kid, I've always loved to be different. I thought of closing down my Instagram because it is too mainstream. I will start travelling again because I think I'm done staying here for pretty long. I want to take my mind off Singapore for a bit because I'm not being that creative here. I'll probably go to Chicago for a short visit to see my friends. And then to India, in Delhi to paint some buildings and hopefully work with their tourism board. After that I'm going to head down to the Philippines. I'm trying to focus more in Asia because I don't really travel much in Asia. I went to Malaysia though. Duh. But I've never been to Thailand, not even Bali. I've never been to Indonesia, only Bandung. At the end of the day, I just want to keep doing what I do — painting walls.