American street art legend Futura has collaborated with Canadian singer The Weeknd, had his designs appear on a Hennessy cognac bottle and reportedly dated Madonna.
Dubbed the godfather of contemporary street art, the 63-year-old New York contemporary graffiti artist, famous for his distinctive abstract graffiti style, will make his South-east Asian debut with a solo exhibition in Singapore that opens on Thursday.
Titled Constellation, the exhibition will showcase 30 specially commissioned pieces created during a two-week residency in October at The Culture Story, a private art space and salon here, which is also the exhibition’s presenter.
The show’s title is a nod to Futura’s first visit to Singapore in 1974, as a young Navy petty officer on board the Kitty Hawk-class supercarrier USS Constellation. His real name is Leonard Hilton McGurr.
Two weeks ago, over the telephone from New York where he is based, the self-taught artist told The Straits Times he was looking forward to the exhibition: “I hope they will enjoy the show.”
He has been to Singapore a few times, he says, and “can’t wait to get back”.
In the upcoming show, his favourite artwork is Landing Position, a 3.7m-long and 1.7m-tall piece featuring acrylic and aerosol on canvas. He recalls: “I was very happy with it. When spray-painting, you just have to go for a gesture, and there were a couple of strong gestures in that piece.”
In recent years, there have been incidents sparking a debate in Singapore about art in public spaces, and Futura hopes artists will not feel discouraged should they face obstacles in creating their works.
(RELATED: Street artist Zul Othman: “I’m fine with legal walls but if I can’t say anything about sexuality, politics, religion or race on them, all that’s left to say about the art is that it’s beautiful.”)
He himself started in the 1970s illegally painting on the New York subway. His work later caught the attention of the American art establishment and he reportedly has not “done illegal” painting since then.
Over the decades, his work has been exhibited at notable art institutions such as The Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and MoMA PS1 in New York.
His designs have also appeared on clothes, sneakers and even a special-edition Hennessy cognac bottle. He has worked with brands such as Uniqlo and Nike, and numerous celebrities have also been linked to him.
For example, in the 1980s, he toured with English punk band The Clash and painted backdrops live onstage during performances.
He also collaborated with The Weeknd on a collection, including jackets, caps and hoodies, to celebrate the singer’s Starboy: Legend Of The Fall World Tour in 2017.
Reports say Futura, who has a daughter, 28, and a son, 34, once dated a young Madonna, which he neither confirms nor denies.
Asked if he regards taking his art from the streets to the galleries and working with brands as selling out, he says: “I am not a sell-out. My work has changed. Corporate money… companies co-branding with me, that is relatively new.”
And he does not see himself as a celebrity. “But people do say hi to me, so that is nice,” he says.
WHERE: 02-21, Block 9 Gillman Barracks, Lock Road
WHEN: Until June 9, noon to 8pm daily
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.
Photos: The Culture Story