JACKSON, WILLIAM & ALVIN

Graphic Design

PHUNK

http://www.phunkstudio.com/

Four friends meet at LASALLE College of the Arts in 1994; over the 26 years that have since passed, Alvin Tan, Jackson Tan, Melvin Chee and William Chan built PHUNK, one of the most distinctive contemporary art and design collectives to have sprung forth from this little red dot. Harnessing their voracious appetite for pop culture to create ground-breaking multidisciplinary work, this homegrown collective has represented Singapore on the global stage in high-profile events such as the Gwangju Design Biennale 2005 and the 5th Fukuoka Art Triennale. Whether one calls PHUNK a collective, a band, or a family, their multifarious achievements speak for themselves – as does their enduring friendship. We look back on the twists and turns of their decades-long journey and get a little introspective with three of the members, Alvin, Jackson and William.
  • Company Name

    PHUNK

  • Company Founded in

    1994

  • Name of Founders

    Alvin Tan, Jackson Tan, Melvin Chee, William Chan

  • Founder Birth Year (Alvin)

    1974

  • Founder Birth Year (Jackson)

    1974

  • Founder Birth Year (Melvin)

    1974

  • Founder Birth Year (William)

    1973

  • Education (Alvin)

    LASALLE College of the Arts, Diploma in Visual Communications (1994)

  • Education (Alvin)

    LASALLE College of the Arts/Goldsmith University of London, Masters, Fine Art (2015)

  • Education (Jackson)

    LASALLE College of the Arts, Diploma in Visual Communications (1994)

  • Education (Jackson)

    LASALLE College of the Arts/Goldsmith University of London, Masters, Fine Art (2015)

  • Education (Melvin)

    LASALLE College of the Arts, Diploma in Visual Communications (1995)

  • Education (William)

    LASALLE College of the Arts, Diploma in Visual Communications (1994)

  • Education (William)

    Central Saint Martins, BA (Hons), Graphic Design (2000)

  • Other Pursuits (Alvin)

    Mystic Vintage (Since 2008)

  • Other Pursuits (Jackson)

    BLACK (Since 2003)

  • Other Pursuits (Jackson)

    METHODOLOGY (Since 2013)

  • Other Pursuits (Jackson)

    ART-ZOO (Since 2017)

  • Other Pursuits (William)

    TMRRW (Since 2012)

  • 1st Office

    Pagoda Street

  • Period of Occupancy (1st Office)

    1997-99

  • Estimate Space (1st Office)

    2 tables 4 chairs

  • Number of Staff (1st Office)

    0

  • 2nd Office

    Club Street

  • Period of Occupancy (2nd Office)

    1999-2000

  • Estimate Space (2nd Office)

    600 sqft

  • Number of Staff (2nd Office)

    0

  • 3rd Office

    River Valley

  • Period of Occupancy (3rd Office)

    2000-2003

  • Estimate Space (3rd Office)

    3000 sqft

  • Number of Staff (3rd Office)

    0

  • 4th Office

    Baghdad Street

  • Period of Occupancy (4th Office)

    2003-2004

  • Estimate Space (4th Office)

    800 sqft

  • Number of Staff (4th Office)

    0

  • 5th Office

    Arab Street

  • Period of Occupancy (5th Office)

    2004-2006

  • Estimate Space (5th Office)

    1000 sqft

  • Number of Staff (5th Office)

    0

  • 6th Office

    Arab Street

  • Period of Occupancy (6th Office)

    2006-2009

  • Estimate Space (6th Office)

    1000 sqft

  • Number of Staff (6th Office)

    0

  • 7th Office

    LASALLE College of the Arts

  • Period of Occupancy (7th Office)

    2009-2011

  • Estimate Space (7th Office)

    1000 sqft

  • Number of Staff (7th Office)

    0

  • 8th Office

    Tanjong Katong

  • Period of Occupancy (8th Office)

    2012-2014

  • Estimate Space (8th Office)

    1500 sqft

  • Number of Staff (8th Office)

    0

  • 9th Office

    Delta House

  • Period of Occupancy (9th Office)

    2015-2019

  • Estimate Space (9th Office)

    2500 sqft

  • Number of Staff (9th Office)

    0

  • 10th Office

    Kallang Avenue

  • Period of Occupancy (10th Office)

    2019-Present

  • Estimate Space (10th Office)

    3800 sqft

  • Number of Staff (10th Office)

    0

  • 1992

    William, Alvin and Jackson met and became classmates while studying in LASALLE College of the Arts, Visual Communications.

  • 1993

    Melvin, who was childhood friends with Jackson since primary one, joined LASALLE and became part of the group. They considered starting a rock band together, but switched the musical instrument for a Mac instead.

  • 1994

    Graduated from LASALLE College of the Arts. Started 'Phunk' as a street wear label, it did not take off... but the name remained...

  • 1995

    Founded Guerilla Fonts to create original digital typeface designs and sent the typefaces to Garage Fonts, Del Mar, California (Co-founded by renowned graphic designer David Carson)

  • 1995

    Self-published 'Transmission01' to "transmit" the collective's ideas worldwide.

  • 1998

    Garage Fonts officially distributed PHUNK's original typeface designs worldwide.

  • 1998

    Founded and launched 'Trigger' Magazine, 20,000 copies snapped out within a week, left the project after 2 issues.

  • 1998

    Organised theme parties with Zouk to launch ‘Trigger’, cited as one of the top 10 Zouk parties of all time.

  • 1999

    Started long-standing working relationship with MTV Asia.

  • 2002

    Published 'Transmission02: Utopia', critically acclaimed by the international design community.

  • 2002

    Invited to exhibit 'We Love Utopia' at the Magma Gallery, London.

  • 2002

    Launched '400ML’, a collaboration with French Graffiti artist, 123Klan.

  • 2003

    Invited by the Reed Space in New York City to exhibit 'Control Chaos'. All artworks sold out on opening night.

  • 2004

    Launched 10 years retrospective monograph, 'A Decade of Decadence' book. Was awarded 'Best of Show' at Singapore Design Awards 2005.

  • 2004

    Featured on the cover of Creative Review, described as "Champion of Singapore's graphic scene".

  • 2005

    "Baroqracy" exhibition launched in Taipei.

  • 2005

    Launch of Co+Lab project with Nike Asia Pacific.

  • 2006

    Commissioned by Nokia, Finland to create interactive and audio/visual content for the brand's flagship stores worldwide.

  • 2006

    Created 'Invisible Forces' for Nike’s worldwide campaign, launched and exhibited at the Tokyo Designer's Week.

  • 2007

    Launch of 'Universality' book, published by PageOne books.

  • 2007

    Collaboration with Levis to create Phunk Studio 'Artist series' T-shirt series for Europe and Japan, launched spring/summer 2008.

  • 2007

    Awarded ‘Designer of the Year’ at the President’s Design Awards 2017, the highest accolade for Singapore design. Youngest recipient of the award.

  • 2008

    Awarded 'Certificate of Typographic Excellence' for the 'MTV Top 100 Hits' show packaging at TDC 54, Type Directors Club, NYC.

  • 2008

    Collaboration with Levis to create Phunk Studio 'Valentine's' T-shirt series for Asia Pacific, and Phunk Studio 'Artist series' T-shirt series for Europe. Solo exhibition at the Levi's Paris flagship store.

  • 2008

    Collaborated with Giordano for the 'World Without Strangers – Giordano T-shirt project' for Asia Pacific.

  • 2009

    Exhibited ‘Around the World Across the Universe’ at Vallery, Barcelona.

  • 2010

    Collaborated with G-Shock (Japan) on limited edition watch.

  • 2010

    Collaborated with legendary Japanese artist Keiichi Tanaami on artist collaboration artworks and exhibitions.

  • 2010

    Collaborated with Uniqlo (Japan) on artist edition series for UT global launch.

  • 2011

    Designed a series of merchandise for legendary rock band, The Rolling Stones.

  • 2011

    Exhibited in ‘Future Pass – From Asia to the World’ at the 54th Venice Biennale 2011 and Wereldmuseum, Rotterdam.

  • 2011

    During the moving of the studio from LASALLE to Tanjong Katong, a fire broke out and destroyed everything in the studio.

  • 2012

    Change of name from Phunk Studio to PHUNK to mark a new era of the collective after the fire.

  • 2012

    Solo gallery exhibition, ‘Empire of Dreams’ at Gallery J. Chen, Taipei.

  • 2014

    Site-specific public art installations on New York’s subway billboards as part of Inside-Out show.

  • 2016

    Solo exhibition at Owen James gallery, New York.

  • 2020

    Control Chaos: 25 Years of PHUNK, a commemorative exhibition that marks the beginning of the collective’s 25th anniversary celebration at National Design Centre, Singapore.

  • 2021

    Global release of new monograph 'Control Chaos: Redefining the Visual Cultures of Asia’ published by Thames & Hudson. Celebration of twenty-five years of PHUNK.

Phunk Soul Brothers

By Michelle JN Lim, 30 May 2022

PHUNK has a very long history, you're about 26 years old as a studio by now, and I just wanted to go back to the beginnings of PHUNK. Let's start by painting a picture, if you will, of Singapore's graphic design scene when PHUNK first emerged in 1994. How would you describe it?

Alvin Hi. So yeah, I think when we started, it was prior to 1994, we were still in school. Back then it was LaSalle at Telok Kurau Studios. So back then, I think there wasn't even illustration as a professional job yet. There was only graphic design as a creative form of arts and there was fine arts. That was like really the two types of jobs that were out there. And I think design was viewed as a very technical, very advertising-skewed kind of profession. So it wasn't really as exciting as design is today.

We met each other in school through playing games like soccer and basketball, and we had a common passion of collecting magazines and whatnot. So I met William and Jackson and we bonded through that way. Throughout that history and the course, we started collecting things and we started to sell things at flea markets, such as Star Wars toys and silkscreen posters at places like flea markets. And that was how we actually bonded through design in that sense.

We were crazy enough to do a lot of self-promotional work. We started designing our own fonts, and we started to do our own T-shirts, and we wore them to the early days of Zouk to promote ourselves. So that's how we got into our own state of design, actually. And through sending our own works to magazines abroad, we sort of made this little red dot known to our design heroes abroad. Magazines like Emigre, which was a type foundry based in the States. And yeah, to other designers in the UK as well. So that's how they knew about how there's actually some crazy Asians in a little place called Singapore who are really, really crazy about design. And we started getting into a couple of publications and that's how we started making international design friends. And that's how it really started.

We were crazy enough to do a lot of self-promotional work. We started designing our own fonts, and we started to do our own T-shirts, and we wore them to the early days of Zouk to promote ourselves.

Thanks Alvin for sharing the very beginnings of it. I do wonder whether it's crazy, or is it just very driven and passionate? Maybe William can take this question: what would you guys consider to have been your first big break, after that initial stage of self-promotion, and sending out your publications and making your existence known to the outsiders abroad?

William Oh, I think the first big break, at least from my perspective... because if you go back to the mid-90s when we just graduated, the idea of being a graphic designer and being internationally known as a Singaporean graphic designer is, at least for students like us, quite a distant thought and something that is almost unattainable. So I think there's one thing that we had decided, as Alvin mentioned just now, was that we wanted to start a type foundry. We were inspired by a lot of type foundries during the era. So we started building our own fonts, and we started making our own font catalogues. And then we started to send out to different publications, and even different design studios to try to sell our fonts, in a very idealistic way.

And then one of our fonts was sent to this publisher called PIE Books in Japan. And how we even got into PIE Books was because Jackson's sister happened to work in a publishing company and she just found this little form. That was pre-Internet, and so there was no email. So we found this little form where you can write your name and stuff like that, and submit some of your work through mail. So we did that, actually... we took pictures of our work in slides and sent it to them.

Surprisingly, we got a response from them to publish some of our work. And not just that, they even asked us to write the intro for the book as well. So I think that was a big break in the sense that being published at that stage was actually unthinkable for us. And being in an international publication gave us the sense that our work can be seen by a wider audience around the world. And it gave us the sense that, oh, this is actually possible. So it gave us a lot of confidence that we can keep on pushing towards this sort of direction.

Being in an international publication gave us the sense that our work can be seen by a wider audience around the world. And it gave us the sense that, oh, this is actually possible.

That's amazing. Thanks for sharing. And I think it really speaks to the vintage of PHUNK when you talk about a pre-Internet era, and then sending slides out, you know, rather than emails.

William I think that reveals our age. [laughs]

I also wanted to ask, and maybe Jackson, you could answer this, because I do note that interest in typography in some of your work, such as, "L.O.V.E. Summer" (2013) or "Queer" (2015), which are very heavily type-centric, or type-focused. What is it about type that interested you guys in that early stage?

Jackson I think it was a very interesting era, in the early 90s, there were a lot of experimental works that were done in graphic design with typography. That was because people were starting to adapt to using the Mac as the way to design. Because previously, people were still using Letrasets and paste-ups to do their layouts. So when we typeset in the old ways it was either with the typesetting machines or the Letraset. And then the Mac basically broke that. The Mac enabled designers to be able to customise our own typefaces, and be able to lay them out in crazy ways, and the text can flow in different ways. So that really blew our minds when we were students, because that suddenly opened up so much for us. We really enjoyed experimenting with typography at that time.

I see. And perhaps when one looks to PHUNK's works, the idea of experimentation really comes to the forefront in terms of how you break boundaries with mediums and with style.

But how else would you define PHUNK's style or philosophy in three words or phrases to someone who is new to PHUNK?

Alvin I think it's definitely a combination, so there'll be East, there'll be West – East, West, and Us. Because I think we take influences from both the East and West and we make it us. And it's also because we're based in Singapore, so we are influenced by things around us.

We take influences from both the East and West and we make it us.

I love that. I love how cartographic you've got with this, and it is very accurate to your design influences, I think. How about William?

William I think for me is it's in retrospect of how we started, from the way we approached it, we were quite naive. At the same time, we're quite brave. And we're also extremely determined. I think that's how I saw how we were back then.

Wonderful, thanks. Sometimes, it's only when we don't know what we don't know or can't do, that we can have the courage to do it, right?

William Yes. I think you're dumb enough to do because you don't know what's in front of you... I think that's more like us.

Gotcha, thanks William. And how about Jackson?

Jackson I think just two words: Control and Chaos.

Yeah, and I think that definitely comes through in that big work that you guys recently reprised in the National Design Centre, right?

Jackson That's right.

We were quite naive. At the same time, we're quite brave. And we're also extremely determined.

In these two words and the juxtaposition of it, as well as that very maximalist incorporation of many different design influences, as well as pop culture, you find yourselves in between everything. And that makes sense going back to what Alvin said about you guys being in the centre of it all.

Okay, so let's talk about your history. Because, PHUNK being 26 years old is pretty much a full-grown adult. And surely, in such a long history, there must be some ups and downs. So I'm curious, what are the most significant high and low points in PHUNK's history?

William The highs obviously, for me, are really the kinds of projects we engaged in together along the way. I think a lot of the things that we did back then, in the context of Singapore, we felt that it was—at least based on what we know—was quite lacking in the scene. I mean, from the point of like, publishing pop culture magazines, or doing your own indie publication, and to even tying all these ideas back from the exhibition, to publication, to doing parties in Zouk, and all those things.

I think that was probably one of the more exciting things that we did in that point because there was a lack of all these activities, or lack of this kind of mixing of ideas and events that we have in Singapore. And Singapore, at that point in time was actually also rapidly developing. So it was actually a very exciting period for us. And I think that that's really some of the high points that I can think about. Yeah, maybe the rest of the guys can share their ideas as well.

And you guys have had such an interesting bunch of projects, right? I don't think I can name a big brand that you haven't worked with. How about Alvin, what do you think your highs and lows of PHUNK's history are?

Alvin I think we were all quite lucky to go through a period of time in design where the internet hadn't fully taken over yet, unlike today. It's very easy now for any designer to reach another person through sliding into DMs (direct messages) on Instagram. Previously, we really had to have design parties or design programs. And we travelled to different countries to meet different designers and connect with them that way. And a few highlights, I would say, would be our first show in New York City.

That's when we first got the experience of showing our art to the rest of the world and conversing and making contacts and connections with creative people. And then that led on to a few other cities like Sydney, which was really fun for us. I think it was the first time we spoke to a crowd of like, 3000 designers. That was quite mind blowing. And then after that, there were a few shows in Berlin, or in Tokyo, where we got to make other connections that led to other collaborations, like with Tanaami-san (Keiichi Tanaami), and we also did a project for the Rolling Stones in LA as well.

So I guess those people connections and travel events are probably what we miss quite a bit. I think the connections with how designers approach collaborations these days is quite different. It's both good and bad. The good is that you can reach the other person directly. But then you lose a little bit of serendipity there, which I find is the beauty when we go to events like these.

I think the connections with how designers approach collaborations these days is quite different… the good is that you can reach the other person directly. But then you lose a little bit of serendipity there, which I find is the beauty when we go to events like these.

That's a really good point, Alvin, I guess, our connections these days are very targeted and intentional. Like when we reach out, we really want to talk to the person.

Jackson, I'm curious to hear from you as well. Since Alvin and William have brought us through the high points, would that leave you to talk about the more challenging moments in PHUNK's history?

Jackson Like what the guys shared, the high points are really the chances to travel together and go to all these places to do amazing, crazy stuff. Probably the lowest point would be when we were moving our studio and we put all our stuff in a warehouse a few years ago, and it caught fire during Christmas Eve.

I was out of town and I got a call from William telling me that everything was burned. And he sent me pictures from the guys from the warehouse and it was just carcasses of whatever they had. All our artworks that we had kept for ourselves, our furniture, our collectible things, everything that was in the history was there, it was burned. So we had to move to a new studio and start afresh. That was very painful for us. But I think we learnt a lot from that about what really mattered to us, and moved on from there.

Wow. I think one of you earlier said that you guys were big collectors, right? Even when you were students, you bonded through these figurines, memorabilia, and things like that. So did that all get destroyed in the fire as well?

Jackson Yeah, many of the things got destroyed. Also, we kept a good archive of all our previous works from our museum retrospective shows. So that being burned, we had to basically re-collect. We were lucky, some people who collected our works or our friends, they started to send back some of the publications to us. So that was really nice of them.

William Yeah, I was thinking that really is one of the lowest points actually. But in a way it was quite interesting because it gave us a clean slate, because at that point, we were already 15 to 17 years in already. It's sort of like, yeah, burn everything down and start over again. I guess that's where we really go hardcore into doing art from that point onwards.

Can you share more about that switch? Previously, were you doing more brand collaborations and how did that fire change your perspective? Or, what did you realise really mattered after that?

William PHUNK has never been—even right from the start—set up like a design studio in a business kind of setting. Right from the start, we got together because of the projects that we wanted to do. And all along, the model of it as a business wasn't that important to us.

So as we progressed, we actually don't do a lot of client servicing work. A lot of times when PHUNK works, it's always been on our own terms, and in the way we want. And it's always very collaborative with whatever brands that we're working with. So it's always sort of like, a brand and PHUNK doing something, and this is how we actually enjoy the kind of work that we do.

So just to answer your question, after our first 10 years, we started to think whether this was the way to go. Should we continue to work with brands or to move into something where we can create our own artwork, maybe become artists who create our own content and own ideas, to showcase the kind of thinking that these four people have developed over the last decade. So we had already started doing that, and it was through this fire that we literally lost all our baggage.

What we were left with were actually just some stationery, a few pencils. And when we moved into a new studio, we literally had nothing. I mean, seriously, like nothing. Because everything that we were supposed to move from one space is all gone, there's nothing left. This gave us a very clean slate, and then we started discussing amongst ourselves: where did we want to go from here? Did we want to buy back some equipment and do what we used to do? Or do something else completely different? I think that was the point where I felt that we really started to go very deep into art, doing paintings and more than just printing and doing 3D works and stuff like that. Yeah.

So as we progressed, we actually don't do a lot of client servicing work. A lot of times when PHUNK works, it's always been on our own terms, and in the way we want.

And in a way to be able to do so much on your own terms even when you are collaborating with brands is a kind of luxury, right? That maybe not many designers might get to experience.

I'm wondering how is PHUNK able to afford this kind of freedom? Is it because you're doing PHUNK alongside your other money-making businesses? How do you portion your time and effort, how do you make it work?

Alvin Yeah, so we actually have a gallery who represents us for contemporary art. On that end, we do a lot of museum collaborations and commission works, and also private collection works. And we try as much as possible to do one exhibition every year, although we are slowing down even on that, a little bit. Because we're old.

So that side covers the contemporary part of our projects. And there'll be corporate brand collaborations who come to us as well, for either design projects or to design a product. Like, for example, we did carpets before, with our letters. We also collaborated with Tiger Beer and all the alcohol brands before and stuff like that. And then on our own, we would individually participate and take part in art events, design events, and projects. And we also run our own design practices individually. So that kind of forms this entire circle of work that we do, because we know from day one that all of us, we are just very distracted people, we can't do just one thing. We're multitaskers and we love to get our foot into a lot of things and we will try things. We'll try new things. So in a nutshell, I think that is how we function.

We are just very distracted people, we can't do just one thing. We're multitaskers and we love to get our foot into a lot of things.

I see...

Jackson When we first started, we started as a collective and the four of us realised very early on that the four of us weren't going to run a company together like a design studio. It didn't feel right for us, because each of us has different preferences on how we want to work when it's in a proper design studio setup, and also in different fields as well, because let's say I like curation, maybe William likes motion graphics, for example.

So even though we like all the disciplines, each of us likes to specialise in different things. We wanted PHUNK to be pure, as the four of us don't have any employees. Instead of like what our peers would do as a design studio, we modelled ourselves as a band. We looked at people like the Beatles where there're four of them, but there're many people around them that work with them to make the works of four people amplify. That's where PHUNK becomes powerful – when we have people surrounding us, whether it's gallerists, our agents, or the teams that work around us today. What happens is we still share the same studio together. So PHUNK is at the core of it and our various studios like BLACK and TMRRW are our support systems.

PHUNK becomes powerful when we have people surrounding us, whether it's gallerists, our agents, or the teams that work around us today.

Thanks, that's really interesting insight into the way that you strategise and organise your work. And maybe when it comes to the band metaphor, let's expand on that a little bit. In the way that a band has a drummer, a bassist, a singer, what does each of you bring to the table with PHUNK studio that the others don't?

William I think that as a band, like any other band, first of all, you need to have a common goal. Or even when it comes to taste and the liking of a certain direction and style, I think we sort of have that. When we met in school, we had this love of popular culture, or where the things are going. So I think that is how we actually got together. But as graphic designers in a metaphor of a band, what we brought in is our different preferences in terms of design skill sets. Like Jackson just mentioned, he likes curation and I like moving visuals. Alvin does a lot of graphic design and fashion-based sort of work. And Melvin is a very good illustrator.

We take it as each of us plays a different set of instrument, but we are in the field of graphic design. And I think all these things sort of fill up whatever we can't individually do. I can draw but I can't draw like Melvin. And I don't have that sense in terms of curation like Jackson or the sense of fashion of what Alvin does. We somehow manage over the years to work as one unit, and I think that is what makes us unique, like a band.

But as graphic designers in a metaphor of a band, what we brought in is our different preferences in terms of design skill sets. Like Jackson just mentioned, he likes curation and I like moving visuals. Alvin does a lot of graphic design and fashion-based sort of work. And Melvin is a very good illustrator.

Thanks William for sharing that. It's very different from that idea of artists as a lone genius, right, this is more like a collective playing to each other's different strengths.

Going back to the point about how PHUNK has pretty much worked with many, many big brands, you name it, you've done it – Levi's, Nike, MTV, Coca Cola, and then at the same time, you've also brought your works to so many of the big cities and even participated in some of the big biennales. Is there any frontier that you've left unexplored that's still on your bucket list?

Jackson This is an interesting question, we've never really asked ourselves that. Whether we have a bucket list... Yeah, I guess we were constantly challenging ourselves, so we have no idea what's going to be next. It's definitely going to be something different from what we're doing now.

So would it be accurate to say that if it's something that you've already done before, it wouldn't excite you as much and you would be less likely to take it up? Like the prompt has to be something fresh and interesting.

Jackson Yeah, I think we are easily bored, so we constantly change and do something new. And of course, I think now, you know, talking about new frontiers, there's a lot of people talking about digital frontiers. So maybe there's something that PHUNK might look into, but we haven't really talked about yet.

William For us it's also how the four of us develop with age. And with age, obviously, certain things become more interesting than others. So the new frontier could be more internalised in the sense that it's about how, as artists, we move on, rather than being a reflection of what the outside world is doing. So I guess that's part of the journey for us as well.

What are some of the things that you've been thinking about, for example, like in your own internal landscape? If you don't mind sharing – I know it can be a bit personal.

William I think as a group we've always talked about the PHUNK universe. That started almost 10 over years ago, when we started our journey into art. And that universe that we created is basically a warped reflection of what we see through the eyes of four Singaporean boys, and then to men. This universe has obviously evolved along with our age as well, so the work that comes out along the way also evolved. I guess it's ok to share our age – we are going to be in our 50s soon. So obviously, the way we see things, the way we approach things and with the influence of new technology, we will see it differently as well. And I guess our hope is to really, you know, for us to not just be based on external influence, but to be internalised as how we are, as we grow, to come up with something fresh and new, based on our perspective as artists.

Alvin I think we don't really have bucket lists, as much as we'd like to have. I think we'll always go with our current point of interest. And I think that's where the art or the design projects really spurs from. So we take that point of interest, and we usually spin off a project or we use that point of interest to work on something new. Yeah, I don't think we have much... William what were you saying just now, I kind of lost it.

I think as a group we've always talked about the PHUNK universe. That started almost 10 over years ago, when we started our journey into art. And that universe that we created is basically a warped reflection of what we see through the eyes of four Singaporean boys, and then to men.

I think he was talking about the PHUNK universe.

William I think what Alvin is saying is that not too much of it is born from external influence, we are obviously very aware of what's going on and we will incorporate it into our work, but we are more finding our own narrative to express the work.

Alvin Our interest basically comes from within. The universe that we created began when we were young and influenced by a lot of pop culture, we were like sponges absorbing all these imageries and this library that we created. So I think now we just kind of use that as an internal kind of library to create our own universe.

Thanks for sharing about that. As we approach the end of the interview, I just wanted to look back on PHUNK's journey and ask you, what do you think were the biggest contributors to your success?

Jackson I think the biggest contributor to our success would be friendship. It's definitely friendship, because we stayed friends for so many years. And when we first started, it's always about our friendship coming first before everything else. So I think that's very important. The other one is that we were at the right place at the right time. Because Singapore was opening up, the world was getting smaller because of the internet. The change of technology, that really helped us a lot.

The biggest contributor to our success would be friendship… The other one is that we were at the right place at the right time.

That's such a wholesome thing to share, about your friendship, because to have continued this for more than two decades, maybe even approaching three, is a feat that I don't think many people can speak to let alone four friends who grew up together, in a way.

But just to stir the pot a little, I'd like to ask if there were any points where you felt that your friendship was threatened? Or rather, were there any big moments of conflict in the history of PHUNK?

Alvin I think PHUNK is more like a family. Definitely there will be like conflicts in friendships. But I think if you're family you look past those conflicts, and we just worked things out along the way. So I think that's at the core of PHUNK as well.

Through the years we started to grow and learn about each other a lot more through the 26 years of being together. So we can actually pre-empt a lot of all the times what each other is thinking. We have this inside joke about how we visualise things. We tend to have a very similar visualisation of, say, a banana or an apple. And there's this funny story of how we were in New York City once and we went our separate ways to do our own shopping. But we came back with the same APC black military shirt, and it's the exact same one, all four of us. We're not gay, by the way. We take that as something quite precious. Because we can really understand each other so well. We're not just colleagues. Most things happen quite naturally. And that's what we're grateful for.

And there's this funny story of how we were in New York City once and we went our separate ways to do our own shopping. But we came back with the same APC black military shirt, and it's the exact same one, all four of us.

That is really sweet. And I love how you had to throw in a 'no homo' there, but okay!

Alvin We're LGBT supporters also, woke people!

We're LGBT supporters also, woke people!

Thanks, Alvin. William, did you have anything else to add to that question before I move on? The question being what would what do you think were the biggest contributors to your success?

William I think both Jack and Alvin have cleaned it out. Like they said, we grew up together. Obviously, we started as teenagers, then we became young adults. And then we've become middle-aged men, and then we got married. So this is a life journey. And along the way, all of us changed, you know, it's natural. Things we see start to change, obviously, that will inflict some kind of conflicts in along the way. But I guess we saw a bigger picture, and then we sort of worked things out internally. Because at the end of the day, we enjoy the friendship.

It's hard to find people that you can claim to know each other in your late teens, and you've been doing work continuously with for the last 26 years. I think this in itself is quite precious, we sense that and we know that. So I think we always see the bigger picture, and that bigger picture offsets those more minor or pettier things that happen along the way.

It's really precious to find kindred spirits. I mean, how often would you be able to find that in even a given batch of college students like how you guys met in school, right. I think some people might go their entire lives without finding that sort of friendship, but you have found it in each other and that's really wonderful.

Let's zoom out a little bit to ask a question of a very different nature. What do you think of our local design scene these days? And is there any advice that you would give to a young designer or artist today?

William I think the appetite of designers these days and when we started are pretty much the same, I think the driven ones are still very driven, you know, the ones that want to do something. The only difference I felt is obviously the time and place. The technology back then and the technology now. Because of those influences, I think the expectations have shifted quite greatly. Back then, as Alvin mentioned, we used snail mail to communicate, and then came emails later on. So I think we appreciate the sense of time that development takes, that things will happen, but it takes time.

But I think with technology these days, I think a lot of them, they're good, they can do something. But the expectation of things happening instantly is very obvious. It's like, if I don't make it in six months' time, I will just try something else. But for us it's not one year, because it takes a couple of months or even half a year to finish a project. So it's nothing, a couple of months. For me, that's the slight difference.

In terms of the general design scene, I think it's very healthy especially when you see there's so many design schools springing up, and universities. I think it's going a very good direction in that sense. But it's just the way that the more students there are, the elimination process is also bigger in the sense. Only a group of them will survive in this field.

I think a lot of them (young designers), they're good. But the expectation of things happening instantly is very obvious. It's like, if I don't make it in six months' time, I will just try something else.

Thanks, William. So it's about competition being stiffer these days. And the runway time for success becomes smaller. How about Alvin? Given this sort of climate, firstly, do you agree with William? And then secondly, what kind of advice would you have for young artists or designers today?

Alvin I think there are definitely more choices these days than our time when it comes to design and art—there’s many more schools now. So I think that the talent out there is, well, compared to what we had prior is definitely stronger and more. I think they are very skilled in what they can do digitally as well.

I totally agree on the time factor, like I mentioned before, the way we used to connect is so different. So I think it's also about the way of connecting, and about instant gratification. And we are true process believers, we believe the process sometimes is as important as the end goal. So in terms of that, there's nothing wrong with being able to reach someone instantly on Instagram or through an email to reach out for projects. But it's also cultivating that relationship or that friendship, to lead to the project, which is hard to find today. Even we ourselves fall prey to that, we also like to take the shortest path to reach out to someone. But I think it just changes the design process a little bit.

But in terms of talent pool out there, it’s definitely vast, bigger. My advice to young designers would be to take a breather, take a little bit more time to decide on what you want to do. And maybe try not use DM on IG for a year and see how it goes. If you were to do a collaboration, try that and it might change the process and you might find something new out of it.

My advice to young designers would be to take a breather, take a little bit more time to decide on what you want to do. And maybe try not use DM on IG for a year and see how it goes.

That's interesting. It's like a creative exercise in finding alternative ways, rather than just the straightforward simple route.

Alvin Because most of the younger designers I work with, most of time that's the approach that they take. So it takes an older guy like ourselves to tell them that maybe there's another way of seeing.

And Jackson, last but not least, did you have any advice for the young punks today?

Jackson When we first started, they said that Singapore is a cultural desert. Obviously it's changed a lot in the last two, three decades. There's much more opportunities now for Singaporean designers and creatives. But also at the same time it changes the expectations, because when we were younger, nobody expected anything of Singaporean designers to achieve anything. But now the expectations are high, designers expect to get well paid, to win awards, to be recognised. And you're starting to see a lot of younger designers or creatives getting anxious. Even when they're in school, they're already anxious about whether they're going to make money or whether they're going to be successful.

My advice to them is to take it easy and just really enjoy the work that you're doing. Because when you enjoy something, and you do it well, the success and the money will come to you. But if you start to fixate on the money and the success, and not enjoy the process, nothing will come to you.

When we were younger, nobody expected anything of Singaporean designers to achieve anything.

Those are some great words to end on. So before I end this interview, I guess there's just one last question for a group that's done so many interviews across the years. Are there any questions that you wished an interviewer would ask you, but you have never been asked before?

Alvin Maybe a question that interviewers have never really asked us would be how do we see ourselves at 80 years old, maybe?

Oh, that is an interesting question, let’s talk about that. And perhaps a related question is also something that I wanted to ask you guys just now is, how does your family view your relationships with each other? Like, is it a competition between family time versus PHUNK studio time? So yeah, William, how do you see yourself at 80 years old? Will you still be with PHUNK?

William I don't know. I suppose, if I'm not dead. Yeah, I think over time, since you brought up how we see ourselves with PHUNK and our family. I think the first 10 to 15 years, we spent too much time together, because we almost literally see each other daily. After the first 10, 15 years, we started to consider, maybe we shouldn't see each other so often. Because I think we need to start to develop our own life outside PHUNK. Otherwise you know, it's very hard for us to actually have any relationship with anybody. Because all we did for the first 10 years was just to hang out with each other everywhere we go.

Was this conversation inspired by your attempts to build a family outside?

William Even back then my girlfriend would ask, "What are you doing this weekend?", and I'd say “I'm gonna hang out the PHUNK guys to discuss some stuff.” And I think she probably thinks, "Are you sure you guys just hang out with each other to talk about stuff?" Yeah, that's what we do all the time, you know?

Like I said, it was very hard to develop relationships with others because we always functioned as a unit back then. And everything that we did revolved around what PHUNK is doing. And because that was a time where we have a lot of projects that we always thought about. So yeah, that's why I say it's very hard for us to first develop any meaningful relationship outside of PHUNK with other people, if we see each other all the time.

It was very hard to develop relationships with others because we always functioned as a unit back then. And everything that we did revolved around what PHUNK is doing.

So I guess from what William has shared, maybe Jackson when you're eighty you'll still be a part of PHUNK, right?

Jackson Like what William said, as long as we're not dead. It's a lifetime membership.

As long as we're not dead. It's a lifetime membership.

Wonderful. So I guess nobody's going anywhere. And I'm sure you guys are speaking for Melvin as well, because apparently what one person thinks the other three people also think the same?

Jackson More or less?

Alvin I asked that question because during COVID we experienced death as well. Jackson's mom and my dad just passed away within the past year. So going back to just what we've said about us being a unit and all that right, I guess, when we grow old together, at least we know we have each other to depend on. Of course we have our wives. Because we are not gay.

What a way to wrap up Alvin, thanks so much. I mean, it's very sweet to know that you will always have each other – not many people can say that at all. Thanks for bringing us to this thought as we wrap up the interview. So I guess that brings us to the end of this interview.

Jackson Thanks very much.

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