Mention “Sticker Lady” and everyone would instantly remember the infamous incident from nearly eight years ago when contemporary artist Sam Lo was pasting satirical stickers on traffic light buttons, and as a result, arrested for vandalism. Even though a brush with the law could result in a make or break of a career, this individual has proven that it will take much more than their arrest to silence their creativity.
Despite the infamous incident, Sam has since grown as an artist to bigger and greater things such as their permanent murals and graphics at Nike Jewel as well as their most recent collaboration with Volkswagen Singapore. Apart from being a creative and talented artist with a Food, Science and Nutrition background, Sam is also an active member of the LGBT community in Singapore who is non-binary and identifies as they/them.
Though their queerness may be the first thing that stands out immediately with locals here, Sam does not want that to be the only thing that defines them as an artist — especially when they are an all-rounded artist with a penchant for picking up skills in different art forms such as street art, calligraphy, sculpting and designing.
I would have to admit that meeting Sam for the first time was pretty nerve-racking as I was not quite sure what to expect. It suffices to say that part of the nerves came from worrying about using the right gender pronouns (if needed) and also the slight intimidation I got from Sam’s no-nonsense outlook. Thankfully, my anxiety faded when I found out how easy it was to talk with Sam, who may be the chillest person I have ever met.
Story by Jasmine Ong.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ADELE CHAN USING THE LEICA M10-P + SUMMILUX-M 35MM F/1.4 ASPH LENS.
MAKEUP BY DEWI MAHONEY.
HAIR BY DEN NG.
STYLING BY JOE TAN.
“I would first associate myself as an artist who likes to work in public spaces. When it comes to the style of work, I tend to highlight a lot of nuances in the Singapore climate and our Singaporean life. But, I think, more than anything, I like to try and insert new things every once in a while. I like to insert a lot of Easter eggs to try and keep it fun while introducing a little bit of something extra in my style.”
Above (on Sam): Brunello Cucinelli Safari Waistcoat with Printed Silk Pongee Inserts ($3,186), Z Zegna TECHMERINO™ T-Shirt in Dark Green ($520), Cargo Pants in Khaki with Belt (Sam’s Own).
SHAPING THEIR ARTISTIC IDENTITY
“I owe it to my community. When I was first exposed to the creative industry, I was not doing any art at all. What I was doing was this magazine that highlighted Singaporean culture and Singaporean talent, and one of the artists that really stuck out to me was this street artist called TraseOne.
His Shadow Skaters series was the very first piece I saw which really moved me. It’s super cool — in the day, you’ll see a stencil of a skater, which doesn’t really make sense, but at night, when the light hits from the lamp post, the shadows and silhouettes will reveal ramps, slopes and obstacles so that it looks like his skaters are skating over these obstacles. And that was how I first saw the streets. It inspired me to start and go into street art because it was like a new way on how we could interact with our surroundings to create something that is different.
Above (on sam): 7 Moncler Fragment Kurn Hooded Jacket ($1,940), Loewe Paula’s Ibiza Shorts in Tie Dye Cotton ($850), Moschino Sunglasses Logo Mask ($355), Supreme Logo Socks in White (Sam’s Own), Nike Air Max 97 in White (Sam’s Own).
I had a lot of bigger references from international and local artists later on in my career too. I remember the first few really strong graphics that I really admired was Shepard Fairey — I really liked the Obey style, which was how I started going into patterns. There was also Tristan Eaton, for his colours, and local artist Soph O, who taught me to be bold with colours. I used to only work with white, black and red, but with her, I actually learnt how to be stronger and bolder with colours; which is why you see all these different compositions with my work today.
But most of all, I owe a lot to RSCLS — the crew that I was from. They played a very big fundamental part in shaping my artistic identity as they were the ones who helped me out by teaching me all about the history behind graffiti, and schooling me on how to use a spray can.”
above: mural commissioned by SHAKE SHACK, neil road.
WHY THEY CHOSE THE PERANAKAN STYLE PATTERNS FOR THEIR RECENT PROJECTS
“Well, I was exploring my roots actually. I’m Straits-born Chinese and this culture was something I was very intrigued with. If you were to ask what the Singaporean culture was many years ago, you would look at the Peranakan tiles or shophouses and think that it was a part of our culture, right? So, I kind of started with that point many years ago and how it evolved over the years. I was interested in how that culture had so many visual representations from so many different cultural backgrounds.
For example, just by looking at a traditional shophouse, you can already see many different influences — like the floor tiles which were imported from the UK and also some of the patterns, which were probably of Portuguese descent. And then, if you look up at the roofs, you can see roof eaves which were Malay-inspired. There are also Chinese influences when it comes to the relief sculptures that are on the facades. That was what I found so fascinating — that when we see it, we see it as Peranakan culture, but in fact, it was a mix of all the different cultures together and I wanted to explore more into that and to show how we all came from different backgrounds to create something of our own.”
above: murals and graphics for nike at Jewel, Changi Airport, incorporating traditional tiles and patterns with Nike’s athletic silhouettes.
HOW THEY BECAME AN ALL-ROUNDED ARTIST
“I have an itchy butt, so I like to keep trying different things. I started in typography actually and then went on to calligraphy to street art, designing stuff, sculpting, watercolour, and also spray painting — which I only learned later on. The whole point of it was to try and find a medium that I could resonate with.
But, what I learnt was that I’m never satisfied with just one thing. I mean, I wanna get good at everything if I could, but I find it very boring to actually stop with just one thing. I just want to go full-on to do different things. So, it’s not just with art mediums like these but also initiatives. I feel that it is important to create something with the right medium for the audience that I want to connect with using the best means I could creatively.”
above: a sculptural piece that is part of sam’s 4th solo exhibition called “Rising Change”.
CREATING HUMAN CONNECTION WITH THE BARTER MARKET
“I think, sometimes when we keep doing the same thing, we can feel a bit stuck or jaded after a while. For a lot of us, when we first started, it was not about the money ever, and so when it comes to community projects, we feel more connected like we’re doing something together and that’s so important to remember and realise sometimes. Because often, you can feel like you’re alone and just going about your lives but once you meet and reconnect with the people who you started out with together or constantly are in contact with to do something together, it’s so much more powerful.
When we did The Barter Market, we had all these different artists from my community come out and sit in a booth, and the whole point of the project was to remember that human connection. It was not at all about the monetary transaction or how people put digits to how things cost — it was the value of what we see and what it meant to us that was more important, and I wanted to bring that back through The Barter Market. We had people come to the market and do kickflips for postcards and there was even someone who brought a guitar down to sing a song in exchange for ceramics. We also had somebody do a rap battle as well and they themselves have never done anything like that outside. The Barter Market created that human connection which made the art more meaningful.”
Above (on Sam): COS Lightweight Pleated Nylon T-Shirt in Warm Orange (POA), COS Cotton Poplin Shirt with 3D Pocket in White ($156), COS Organic Cotton Cigarette Trousers in Black ($156), Dior ATTITUDE 1 Sunglasses ($475), Loewe Paula’s Ibiza Mini Dolphin Bag in Classic Calfskin ($1,990).
THEY BELIEVE IN ARTISTIC INTEGRITY OVER HIGH PAY
“I’ve had clients and people who have approached me and when I realised that their vision was not in line with what I believe in, there was no point to work in a project like that because you’re not going to be attached to it. Every piece of work is not just physical and mental labour, but there’s also emotional labour. So, I don’t want to invest myself in situations that I’m not comfortable with.”
MEMORABLE ART PROJECTS FROM THEIR CAREER
“Back in the day, many years ago, when I was still with RSCLS, one of my favourite things that I did with them was Solidarity — an art cross-cultural exchange for graffiti. It was actually to document South-East Asian graffiti and so we would fly them over, and fly over to the different countries, like Manila, Indonesia and Thailand. In Singapore, vandalism is illegal but when we went over there, it was a different ball game. We really learnt a lot from the scene over there through the different exchanges.
We also did Rebel Daughters, a project which highlighted female graffiti artists that were brought in from a lot of different regions including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines. We had like an all-female graf jam in Singapore at the Esplanade and Queen Street.
Another one was a project I did in India with my best friend. It was the hardest, most technical wall that we had to do because everything was symmetrical and identical. Imagine tiles but as huge ones that are large scale on a 30 x 10m wall. It was so hard because the method that we first chose was actually like the worst method and so we had to piece it all back together and it was this very steep learning curve. It became a challenge which was hard as hell but I felt accomplished.”
above: CAUSE & EFFECT:: Lodhi Art Festival, ST+ART India x STB (New Delhi), commissioned by Singapore Tourism Board.
WORKING THROUGH A CREATIVE BLOCK
“Everything is temporary, even the good things. So, when I hit a rough patch, especially when it comes to creative blocks, I always look to this saying a friend of mine told me — If you try to force a fart, chances are it’s shit — and it has stuck with me all the way.
Above (on Sam): COS Pullover Jacket with Temperature Reactive Print in Cinnamon Cotton (POA), Brunello Cucinelli Safari Waistcoat with Printed Silk Pongee Inserts ($3,186), Z Zegna TECHMERINO™ T-Shirt in Dark Green ($520).
I think how I treat myself, in terms of ego-wise, is that I always expect that I can do this because I think I’ve proven to myself that if I want to do something, I can do it. So, if I take a longer time than usual to learn or do something, I’ll be frustrated with myself. So, I feel like I have to acknowledge that it is just my ego talking in situations like that in order to get through to myself. I would try to take a breath and take things at my own pace. It is only when I enjoy the process that I really learn something and that is when it really works out.
Sometimes I fall prey to that frustrated mindset of not being able to be as fast or not being able to learn as much as I wanted to, but when I stop to think and learn how to be kind to myself and recognise that I am only human, that is what usually works for me.”
WANTING THE STICKER INCIDENT TO BE OVER AS SOON AS IT HAPPENED
“When the police showed up at my house and asked me if I did it, I said I didn’t know what they were talking about. But when I saw the evidence they had, I was like, yeah, I did it lah, okay. Since then, I already acknowledge that it is illegal in Singapore, and even when I was doing it. On the spot, I already knew but it was just about whether I cared enough because I cared more about what I was doing.
Prior to the time they charged me, it was hell for me because I felt like I was in limbo. It wasn’t about being angry at what I was charged with. In fact, when I was read my charges and I was charged on that day itself, I was relieved because it was done. That is just it. I can tell you, a lot of people relate to that feeling as well. It’s not about anger or whatnot. I just wanted to be done.”
above: The stickers from 2012 that made sam famous.
GRATEFUL THAT THE INCIDENT DIDN’T HAPPEN IN PRESENT TIME
“I actually think it will be worse (if it happened now) because there will be more noise. Back then, with that amount of noise, it was so hard already. I couldn’t say anything to all the trolls and people with something to say so that would have been crazy for my mental health. What’s worse is that they can dox you now.
I think it was maybe last year when I found out that there was this website that was using my artwork as their logo, and I had sent them a PM to tell them to at least credit me for the work but they just ignored me. I commented on their post and said the same thing, but they just ignored me again. So, I got fed up, put it out on my Facebook page and then everyone started going at them. Some people actually messaged me with their private information, like where the guy is, where he registered his company and said that they can send it over to the press.
So, that’s the thing about today. It probably existed back then as well. When I got arrested, a hacker actually wrote to me and told me that he managed to get my Limpeh artwork onto the PAP website — which was pretty fucking cool. Last time it was a hacker, but now it’s anybody. It is different now and that’s why I say it’s scarier.”
Above (on sam): 7 Moncler Fragment Shell-Trimmed Paint-Splattered Cotton-Corduroy Jacket ($1,909), Loewe Paula’s Ibiza Asymmetric Oversized T-Shirt in Waterlily Cotton ($790), Cargo Pants in Khaki with Belt (sam’s Own).
GETTING ARRESTED HELPED MOULD THEIR GROWTH
“I learned a lot from the experience itself. About how people are and about how manipulative the media can be; how scary that can be, and also how amazing it is when people get together, they can do so much together. I remembered, when I was arrested and the news of it came out, people showed solidarity using the black and white sticker on their profile, and creating petitions urging others to be aware of it.
All of this meant so much to me. I really saw the impact of what these stickers could do or how it impacted others to actually do something as well. That’s why it means a lot to me, and it has come through in the way I create work; that it is based on people because I owe it to them.”
above: THE LIMPEH SHOW at THE SUBSTATION, 2015.
PERSONAL TAKEAWAYS FROM THE INFAMOUS INCIDENT
“Because I believe in the message and I believed in myself, I will still do it again because I still believe in the message. It was not the most fun experience but it showed me a lot about people. I mean being in an experience like that is pretty unique but more than anything, I learned a lot about myself — what I can take, what I know my limits are, what I know I can push.
I think at one point in time I felt like whatever I did was enough, that was it for my life; like I didn’t need to do anything else because I felt like my job was done. But at the same time, that was sad to know and sad to feel that way. To top it off, I was afraid of what’s to come. I used to be able to answer where I saw myself in five years but I can’t anymore since that case. It is because you don’t know if you can really adapt and so that’s where I learned how to adapt — it really changes you.”
above: MY GRANDFATHER ROAD:: LARGEST ROAD PAINTING IN Singapore.
IF SAM LO WASN’T AN ARTIST, THEY WOULD STILL BE A CREATIVE
“If I was not an artist, I would be a lab technician? I’m joking! Something else creative, I guess, maybe trying to make a career in sculpting? I know what my Food, Science and Nutrition certification qualifies me for but it is not something that I am interested in, so I’ll probably still be in the creative line.”
Follow Sam Lo on Instagram here, and check out their work at SAM-LO.COM.