A member of The Secret Hideout Street Art collective, Kenzy (aka NOYZ) is obviously a champion of the oft-misunderstood artform; graffiti. While the 10 people strong collective are of different practices, mediums, and applications of art, as Kenzy put it, they are all about encouraging curiosity in street art. “Sometimes the creative ones are misunderstood by the public, so why not dig a little deeper?” he asks us, relating it to their logo of a bunny hoping into a hole. As it turns out, going down the proverbial rabbit hole isn’t so much about insanity as it is about further understanding.
Kenzy was initially drawn towards graffiti when he got acquainted with Drewfunk, the only street artist in his hometown, about a decade ago. Following him around while observing his doing throw ups and tags was a staple activity for him at night, which then led to Drewfunk teaching Kenzy how to tag the graffiti handle that has stuck with him since – NOYZ. The rest is history.
Seeing an opportunity for some much needed enlightenment, JUICE decides to ask him about something that’s been bugging us for a while now; graffiti’s current mainstream status vis-à-vis stubborn naysayers of the artform. Think about it, even despite Banksy’s popularity in the UK, the animosity for graffiti art is disproportionate to its supposed criminality. Like a true graffiti philosopher, Kenzy tells us that it’s a very subjective thing before continuing to say that “there will always be unacceptable terms for graffiti as an artform due to some vandalism nature in the culture – but then trying to define the thin line between vandalism and art is like discussing love and hate.”
Rather refreshingly, Kenzy is empathetic towards the art’s detractors, telling us one can’t expect minds to be opened especially when the public doesn’t even know the subculture’s origins. This actually bothers him more than anything else here, too many times he’s been approached by people who’d request for graffiti art when what they really want is just wall painting design. As he puts it drolly, “to know what [Malaysians] call ‘graffiti’ as a term… that’s globalisation right here on the artform.”
Curious to know about the scene in Malaysia, and noticing that most walls are mostly adorned with tags instead of meaningful pieces, we question him on why there doesn’t seem like that active of a graffiti scene here anymore. Kenzy is quick on the defence, telling us that it’s the contrary actually. Seeing an opportunity to educate us – and our readers consequently – Kenzy explains to us the different steps an artist would go through in graffiti culture. ‘Tagging’ is the baby step, where they learn different fonts and how to scribble their names. Next is ‘throw up’, the bubbles or outlines that form the letters. Finally there’s the ‘full piece’ with colours and clean lines, as the name itself says, this is the finished product.
On the subject of meaningful pieces such as that of political and social statements, there’s a very simple reason for this. “[It’s] the nature of our country’s political system – not much political work [could be seen because it] would have been removed before it reaches mainstream media,” he reveals to us, adding that should we want to see these sort of works, local art exhibitions are the way to go.
“You’d be surprised by how much more “vocal” they are in expressing thoughts on politics in their work.”
Despite all these self-serious street art talk, graffiti wasn’t the instigator of his venture into art, Kenzy has been doing it since childhood. In his own words, “… doodling and illustrating a lot of funny random characters were what I do best when I’m bored in my class or lecture, I even painted the walls in my room at home!” Even now, graffiti is only one thing he’d do with his Secret Hideout homies every now and then for fun. Alone, Kenzy opts for paper and pen, his favourite medium. “It reminds me of how I first started drawing…” he tells us, justifying his love for the basic combination of paper and pen with an obvious nostalgic tone. It wasn’t just paper though, he draws on any surface (bag, cap, table, door, anything), in fact, the earliest way he earned pocket money was by customising basketball shoes for AND1 Basketball. As it is with most artists, Kenzy eventually got to digital illustrations, dabbling in colours and experimenting with different tools. Unlike the rest though, he didn’t just stick with it.
“As I moved on, I discovered raw painting, like acrylic on canvas with fingers is awesome too! So I began working on canvas with acrylic, spray, and markers.”
There’s astute simplicity to Kenzy’s art. Like most traditional graffiti artists, he’s all about connected lines, clean strokes, layers of depth, fluidity, and movement of the subject drawn. There is an understated dramatic effect to it that stimulates our visual acuity. It’s no wonder then that Taiwanese-American visual artist James Jean (best known for his stint as Fables’ cover artist) inspires him the most. Despite the two’s different styles, their artistic ethos is similar. Kenzy also keeps up to date with local illustrators and neighbouring new artists in order to remain inspired.
Kenzy’s proudest work to date was the 20ftx20ft canvas painting he was commissioned to do for the album launch of Tamil hip hop’s godfather, Yogi B (formerly of Poetic Ammo fame). While objectively the giant piece that took him a week to complete was a career achievement in some ways, he added that his personal proudest moment was when a total stranger bought his artwork right after he just painted it.
This might change once he starts working on his project with Gap though. Through their Art of Blue Project, the brand supports arts in Malaysia by giving local artists an avenue to showcase their talents. Kenzy, along with his The Secret Hideout peers Mojo and Kangblabla, will be converting their street art onto a pair of jeans – relating to how they first discovered art, just as when Gap founder Don Fisher couldn’t find the right pair of jeans before he founded the brand.
Appreciating Gap’s support for local arts, Kenzy shares that “there’s always opportunity out there waiting for us to explore and knock on.” But do you always open your door when it’s the one knocked on then?
“Don’t think, just do it.”