THESEUS CHAN: You can have all the necessary skills to do very good graphics, typography, or whatever. But if you do not have an idea, basically, there is nothing for you to design. Being able to articulate, being able to express an idea, in a form; in a manner in which it is very vivid—very clear; very inspiring.
I think I didn’t want to go where everyone else is going or [do] what everyone else is doing, whether it’s graphic design styles or whether it is thinking, methodology, or whatever. I would like to be on the fringe, basically. There was all this talk about ‘print is dead’. That sort of, again, sort of pushed me to the point to prove the opposite. So that’s why I started WERK, W-E-R-K. Typically most people would want it to be really pristine, beautiful paper. I didn’t sympathise with that. I wanted it to be industrial. I wanted things that are trash, you know. I wanted to use that to make a point that beauty can be found when you do it this way.
Because the Comme des Garçons store opened here in Singapore, I thought, why not put a magazine together? One issue to celebrate its opening. Once that issue is done, of course I sent it to Adrian [Joffe], and he says, ‘Oh, we might really use some of these covers. Maybe she [Rei Kawakubo] wants to work on something’. So I sent her all of these scans of this cover, which she translated into one of her collections. You know, the Comme des Garçons shirts. At that time the mindset is that if you were to do retail work, it is unglamorous. You’re just putting products on the page. But I was approached to somehow work together with them and I thought, hey, it’s exciting because it’s really something that most creatives didn’t want to do, but I wanted to do it. I wanted to change it. I wanted to do it differently.
Valerie Chow, I have to give credit. She’s the best person I’ve worked with. It was the recession time and Valerie was on the phone telling me, ‘You know what? The budget has been cut. We can’t do this, we can’t do that, maybe we can’t do Pedderzine’, or whatever; all this negative news. ‘But you know what? Cash is king.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, cash is definitely king. Why don’t we just do cash?’ [laughs] Everybody loves the sight of cash, you know. It was not serious but that is the best, because you realise all these ideas come up because you’re relaxed; you’re not guarded.
You can call me a Singaporean designer, no harm. It’s a fact. It’s factual. But good work has no geographical boundaries, you know. If you do good work, people see it, people feel that you do great things. They want to do good work with you. So there’s no prejudice against where you come from.
Theseus Chan is known to many in Singapore as the ‘godfather of graphic design’. WERK is one of his creations: a self-published magazine that he started in 2000. Each copy is personalised by hand, collaborating with international artists, designers, and fashion labels to explore how their work can be expressed through book-making and printed matter. There are more than twenty issues of the magazine in the M+ Collections.
This video was originally published on M+ Stories.
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