Interview with the Malaysian Graffiti Artist CLOAKWORK
Many lovers and practitioners of graffiti grow up being exposed to the iconic history and media of American graffiti culture. Spraycan Art, Subway Art, Wild Style, and Style Wars, are all media releases that helped document, shape, and form how graffiti was to develop all around the world. As with all information, some people are lucky enough to develop an opinion or understanding of the culture by making a pilgrimage to the source, others grow up with their own version of graffiti culture that often pays homage to New York with the stylistic tip of the hat, to acknowledge the architects of our culture who came before us. However, Asia and more specifically Malaysia is not New York. Although crossable, the boundaries of culture, popular culture, experience language, and beliefs can mean that the experience of a graffiti writer is very different from that of one growing up in Europe, the U.S.A, or even English-speaking countries in general.
Under the cloak of Cloakwork
In the development of the Montana BLACK Artist Series can number #22 by Malaysian artist Cloakwork, the opportunity presented itself to try and learn more about graffiti culture in Asia and his country Malaysia, and how he came about designing his Cloakwork Orange variation of the Montana BLACK, Clockwork Orange BLK2070 color. After a few online chats, we got nearer to the perspectives of this talented young artist. This is what he had to share with us.
An interview with Cloakwork
Montana Cans– Firstly welcome to this Montana Cans interview in light of the release of your new Montana BLACK Artist Series Can. It is a pleasure to have worked with you. How do you feel about the result of the final product?
Cloakwork– I’ve always been a fan of Montana Cans, honestly. I never dreamt that this day would come. I feel great and it is unbelievable. No words can truly describe how I feel, it’s like a milestone for me. The team behind Montana Cans is really professional and efficient, when I received the proof of my design, it was really amazing and it looked exactly like I designed it on the screen.
MC– How did it come about that you have become a featured artist for the Montana BLACK Artist Series Cans?
CW– When I was approached by the team to create some designs for the Montana Cans cotton bags, one of the designs I had submitted was a Cloakwork Orange artwork. They really liked the design and proposed that it should be considered for the upcoming Montana Black Artist Series. I was so stocked! Design-wise, it is totally different but the concept is still based on Cloakwork Orange. I had to come up with an idea that worked well on the cylinder can.
MC– How did you come to the idea of working with the color BLK2070 Clockwork Orange and is there any connection to the movie ” A Clockwork Orange?
CW– I noticed that there is a color named Clockwork Orange when I was approached by Montana Cans for Halloween Project in 2019. It immediately caught my attention and I imagined how cool it is to have my own color back then. I always like to incorporate some sort of interaction in my designs. For this can, I approached it with something playfulness and mischievousness. I designed the character holding up a board as if he just got punished by the authorities for causing chaos in the city. But, he can’t wait to paint after that.
When I started with the tag Cloak, I had no idea what Clockwork Orange was. I was just looking up words beginning with “C” in the dictionary and came across the word “Cloak”. Which was cool because it means stealth, as in the act of graffiti. And the word “work” represents movement. Like when a plain concrete wall is gray during the day and overnight something colorful appears. It moves from one form to the other.
MC– Is “A Clockwork Orange” as significant in film or youth culture in your home town Kuala Lumpur or in Malaysia generally? Is there a connection between this and Malaysian graffiti culture?
CW– I think most of the youth undergo a rebellious stage, where some people move into graffiti, skating, music, etc. I don’t think there is a direct connection to the movie though.
MC– This brings us to a topic that is a big question mark for a lot of foreigners in graffiti culture, how is Malaysian Graffiti culture in general?
CW- Malaysian graffiti culture is more towards piecing and less towards bombing. This is because most of the local people appreciate graffiti and it’s easy to get nice public walls, and we can spend long hours painting something nice. But of course, there are still groups that enjoy the adrenaline rush of bombing. For me, I enjoy both of them! There are definitely opportunities for writers to paint legally and connect to other writers. In Malaysia, we have a very peaceful graffiti community that supports each other.
I grew up spending a lot of time joining graffiti events as a spectator, sitting down to observe and trying to understand how each writer slowly crafted their masterpiece. And also growing up in the city gave me opportunities to see more street pieces (tagging, throw-ups, stickers, etc ) done by both local and international writers.
MC– Is the historical origins of graffiti driven by different cultural drivers in Malaysia? For example, is the graffiti scene connected to punk culture or another form of social rebellion? And how did you get introduced to graffiti?
CW– In Malaysia, its historical roots veer more towards the rebellion side of things where writers want to get recognition on the street by doing street-based graffiti-like tagging and other forms of bombing. I’ve always been attracted to images over texts. And growing up disliking study made me a rebellious kid. I like being bold and want people to see my art. I came across this wall of fame and notice one unique character during my studies in college. I told myself that I’m going to do something cool and attractive like that.
MC– Do you have a graffiti discipline that you feel is your strength?
CW– I always plan things out and sketch. Even scribbles help get you to where you want to be. I still can’t get away from the traditional way which is pen/pencil and paper. For me, both characters and letters play a big role in a piece. They both compliment each other to form a balanced piece. Of course, sometimes they can be separated too. If I had to choose between letters or characters, I’d choose both! Most of the time I’d like to plan things out before spraying. But occasionally I’d go for freestyle on the spot.
MC– Do you identify more as a street artist due to your strong connection to characters and figurative elements, or do you identify more as a writer tending toward classic style writing letters as important?
CW– Personally, I feel both of these are just labels. I think I’m more of a creator.
MC– As a 31-year-old as you are today, have you managed to support yourself through your graffiti practice, or do you have to do other forms of work to get by?
CW– I’m grateful that I still manage to support myself through my graffiti practice. Apart from that, I still have a clothing business named Against Lab with a few other partners. My dream is to try out painting in zero gravity space, or in a spaceship.
MC– For you, what’s the ideal time frame to paint in? Do you prefer big laborious murals with lots of planning? Or is a quick and simple piece with your friends preferable?
CW– The ideal time frame is around 4~6 hours, depending on other aspects too. I’d prefer both actually, sometimes intensive mural and sometimes chill pieces. Having graffiti jams is definitely a lot of fun as we can all share laughter, jokes, and ideas together. I like that. I do have days when I like to paint small walls and just spend time alone crafting a piece with nothing but music and no stress.
Montana CLOAKWORK ORANGE Cottonbag
The new CLOAKWORK Orange design Montana Cotton Bag is the ideal companion to celebrate the CLOAKWORK Orange Limited Edition Montana BLACK Artist can. The now-classic 38cm x 42cm sizing, made from 100% quality cotton is always helpful when you need to carry things, and allows you to do it in style. Available in stores soon!
MC– In the past, we have featured the boat project you worked on. That’s not something many writers can say they have done. How did you get involved with that project and was that a significant job on your C.V?
CW– I’m an “always up for a challenge” type of person, and one day my Taiwanese friend (Bamboo) asked me if I was interested to paint on a tourist cruise ship. Immediately I agreed to it. Due to the covid19 situation, I wasn’t able to travel to Taiwan to paint it myself so I had to communicate this with my friend Bamboo. He and his team managed to do it for me. Everything went smoothly and it was one of the most significant jobs for me.
MC– How do you see graffiti being used for commercial purposes? Do you have an opinion or a mindset on this aspect of graffiti culture?
CW– I have nothing against it but I think it’s good that some commercial cooperations are starting to appreciate it. It’s a good way to go. But as for the artist’s point of view, we just have to try to balance it out and not sell out. Always remember the street.
MC– As a Malaysian artist, how do you, your peers, and colleagues see your graffiti community? Are you a locally based entity, do you actively connect and work with other writers nationally, or is it a continental thing, and your friendship reach and art practice is Asia-wide?
CW– They are very open and interested in it and often ask me to bring them around when I’m dropping a piece, or going to a graffiti event. Yes, I’m locally based and I always connect to other writers. I always like to have fun jamming around regardless. In my opinion, Asia graffiti is still catching up and we are still exploring and finding our own identity. Also, Asian graffiti is not really that hardcore in terms of train bombing and streets. We need to fill that gap! Most people in Asia are likely to accept graffiti, as they think this is something fresh and colorful. They are really welcoming of it. Whereas in the USA, Europe, or the UK, I understand that it’s saturated. For example, if you just walk out of your house, you’ll see graffiti around you. I think that makes the people kind of sick of it?
MC– Is illegal graffiti aspired to or frowned upon by the writing community?
CW– Not at all, we always like to see both of them growing.
MC– Are there any special considerations to being a writer in Malaysia that other countries may not even think about? For example weather conditions or dangerous animals in painting spots?
CW– One of the things to be considered is that our weather is unpredictable, it can be very sunny and a moment later it’s raining. One good thing about being in Malaysia is that we get to enjoy longer daylight (7:30 pm sunset). We don’t have dangerous animals in painting spots besides mosquitoes that cause dengue fever.
MC– Is it cultural in Asia that the elder writers assist and “bring up” the younger guys? Or is there a divide?
CW– In my case, I provide the opportunity to younger or more inexperienced writers and would ask others to paint together with me. Or encourage them to go to a graffiti festival so that they can learn from observation and experience.
All images by WAV. Studio
MC– Any career highlights for you until now on your graffiti path?
CW– The chance to have my design painted on a tourist cruise ship (painted by my Taiwan friends due to travel restrictions during covid19) was a highlight. Besides that, I was also given a chance to paint one of the top airline company’s offices in 2019.
MC– Do you have a favorite cap and can combination and why?
CW– Definitely the combination of a Montana GOLD or BLACK with the Montana Level 1 cap for small fills and outlines. Or the Montana Level 5 cap for filling in larger surface areas.
MC– What other hobbies or interests does Cloakwork have outside of graffiti? Do any of these influences creep back into your artwork?
CW– Besides painting, I’m into jogging, hiking, and plants as well. It keeps my mind recharged and at peace.
MC– Where do you ultimately want to take your graffiti practice and art-making in the future?
CW– A dream of mine is to be able to travel at least once a month to spray and leisure at the same time.
MC– Thanks for your time, and for sharing an insight into your life and experiences with us. We look forward to seeing more Cloakwork in the future.
Perspective is an objective thing. What one person sees one way, another sees through a completely different set of eyes. The beauty of graffiti culture is that we are all connected by the common glue of graffiti. A language that transcends cultures, countries, boundaries, and even religion. Thanks to writers like Cloakwork, the Asian graffiti story is now being told to a wider audience resulting in even more ingredients in the international melting pot of style.
Montana BLACK Artist Edition 22 by CLOAKWORK
The 22nd edition of Montana BLACK Artists Edition cans CLOAKWORK ORANGE BLK2070 was designed by Malaysian graffiti artist CLOAKWORK. Referencing the cult film “A Clockwork Orange” that inspired the name for the Montana BLACK Clockwork Orange color, CLOAK humorously focused on the main character from the film with a graffiti-inspired illustration that represents a style CLOAKWORK has become famous for.
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