Published on 1 February 2018

This Colombian artist has brought much colour to Singapore’s cityscape with his murals. 

By Melanie Lee

Colombian artist Didier “Jaba” Mathieu came to Singapore ten years ago to work at Lucasfilm doing concept art and digi-matte painting for movies such as Transformers, Iron Man and Star Trek. But it was only in 2012 that he was able to revisit his roots as a graffiti writer growing up in Belgium when Aileen Tan, the owner of BluJaz Café, asked him to paint the external façade of the café. From there, other artists also made their mark on shophouses in Haji Lane, turning this neighbourhood the colourful and vibrant district that it is today.

“I feel like if it wasn’t for Aileen, there would be no street art in Singapore today,” says Mathieu. “She was the first one to believe in it.”

Since then, he has gone on to do street art in many other spots around the island with what he terms as a “graffiti approach”. In fact, Mathieu is firm about making the distinction between “graffiti” and “street art”.

“Graffiti came about in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It was a social movement where young people would tag their name on walls to make a statement that they exist and that they did not follow the norms. The term ‘street art’ came about with the popularity of Banksy in the ‘90s. It was a way for art galleries to commercialise this art form. Today, street art helps to beautify a place, but graffiti was never about that,” he explains.

As such, in line with graffiti philosophy, Mathieu makes it a point to draw freehand with no stencil, scotch tape or projector to help him with his street art projects. He’s also close to the small community of graffiti writers in Singapore and stays connected with the international graffiti community.

Many of Mathieu’s works are retrofuturistic with elements of the past and the future. To him, this is his idea of utopia – a city progresses but traditions are still kept. “I have always liked science fiction but I am also amazed by different cultures. This is why I have always enjoyed travelling and doing art in various parts of the world,” he explains.

After three years at Lucasfilm, Mathieu went on to lecture at Nanyang Polytechnic for another three years before pursuing an MA in Fine Arts at LA SALLE. Now in his final semester, Mathieu is trying to master the fresco technique where painting is done on a moist plaster surface with colours ground up in water or limewater mixture.

“Most of the street art projects I’ve done are probably going to last only 10-15 years with the weather and pollution. Fresco is a more sustainable technique which uses natural elements. Some frescoes have lasted around 2,500 years. I hope to apply what I have learned about graffiti into fresco so there will be lasting records for future generations to know more about graffiti,” he says.

All images are courtesy of Didier “Jaba” Mathieu. 

For updates on Didier “Jaba” Mathieu’s work, follow him on Instagram @didierjabamathieu

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