The Boombox Kid - Lawrence Tan
04 May 2021 by Sancho Murphy
I met Lawrence through Hip Hop dance studio Project Beats' director Chippy Lo back when the store first made the move to the new digs in Braddon. Forward a few years and I was able to commission a tee design made possible by the TCCS Creative Endeavour Grants (2020). This grant was created in response to the economic and social impacts of COVID-19, the ACT Government's Graffiti program acquired funding to support Canberra based Street and Graffiti Artists/Designers from July-December 2020.
I was really hyped on being a successful recipient (my first grant after many rejections lol). There was a period in 2020 where Dirty Laundry was forced to close for 3 months which impacted my personal income, arts practice and ability to continue putting out artist collaboration tees. My personal project had lost momentum and this grant allowed me to kickstart it. By already having the infrastructure to sell, manufacture and distribute artist creations, I was able to apply these principles and use the grant money to help produce and document the making of meaningful limited-edition, hand screen-printed tees featuring designs by local and regional Street/Graffiti Artists & Designers. The project involved me engaging with a videographer to collect process material and profile the collaborative artists in a video recap to be published on the shop blog. I was able to linkup with and allocate funds towards paying freelance creators who were feeling the pandemic burn.
I personally get the good joo-joo vibes documenting early career and freelance artists & designers because it's dope having a retrospective and visual indicator of the professional development and personal growth. A captured moment in the endless march of time and a way of giving back within my means to the people I meet through the shop who have been so supportive.
In this interview, we talk to Lawrence about growing up in Malaysia and finding the room to breathe artistically, the creative hustle in Canberra, dancing to acquire a sound mind & body and how it intersects with painting.
Many thanks to RYAN TELFER MEDIA for producing the process video.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where were you born? Where did you grow up?
I'm Malaysian. I was born in Malaysia, lived in small suburb 4 hours away from the Capital City. I grew up in Kedah, which is the north side of Malaysia.
What was the strongest influence you had when you were growing up? (artists, movies, cartoon, comics, etc?)
Malaysia is a very conservative country, anything against Islam will be banned, or anything the authority thinks is against Islam will be banned, consequently we do not get a lot of western cartoons. BUT, we did get Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, Kamen Rider, DC and Marvel. I like Hellboy comics. LAT (cartoonist), was one of the local artists that I looked up to.
Some times if we are lucky, we get comics from Hong Kong and Japan, which I use to froth over. My family is super religious, but me being a kid going to church is always mehhh, but when I was there, I would always focus on the sculptures and paintings in the churches, thinking 'how the hell they do they this?!'.
Kamen Rider - Episode 1
What are the Graff/Art Supply stores like in Malaysia? What are the local paints used?
I actually don’t know anything about the paint stores in Malaysia because I started in Canberra so I only know Sancho's! I legit did not touch a spray can in Malaysia. Art stores in Malaysia are very scarce, I remember when I was in uni there were like two Art Stores in the entire Capital City, one eventually closed down. But they don’t sell spray paint.
What training do you have in both Dance and Visual Arts?
Dance is self taught. I went to University to study animation. I excelled in my class, but when I graduated I felt like I had learned nothing. I feel like I honestly learned more painting with VOIR, FUNGI, NEMO, SMART, PAW, DAI, MATTY BRO, RUBEN & ZOINKY in Canberra.
(Top to Bottom: RAWS, ZOINKY, KRESH/RUBEN, MATTY BRO, PAR at Woden Drains 2021)
Which came first Dance or Visual Arts? Do you marry up both in your creative pursuits? Or prefer to keep them as separate creative outlets? Are there similarities/differences?
I started painting when I was 6. Then I watched “You Got Served” on a pirated CD in my cousins place when I was 14, I loved it so much I stole that CD (sorry Cuz) and I watched that shit probably more than 52 times I reckon lol.
Subconsciously, dance is a reflection of my life, it's an outlet for all my build up of negativity so if I don’t dance it out my Art won’t be good, so you can say it is bonded. Dance is an Art form itself, so yeah they are similar just different medium. I try to dance like I’m painting. But sometimes, I find my brush work and can control to be aggressive so I think Dance and Art is always connected.
You teach Breakdance at a couple places, and also compete - can you tell us a bit about that?
Don’t mean to sound cocky but it is referred to as "Breaking". Yeah I do teach Breaking and compete. I teach mainly at Project Beats and Passion and Purpose. Ultimately teaching is a process I need to endure to be a better communicator, it is challenging to voice my ideas outwards through verbal means, this is why I paint and dance. With that being said, teaching takes up 30% of my time, and I enjoy seeing my students and myself progress.
Competition in Breaking can be fun and can be hectic, you have to be there to experience it, crowds can go rowdy, almost like a fight but without touching others. Yeah it’s fun!
How do you seek out opportunities? From a shop-keeper’s perspective it looks like you’re kicking goals because I see you more & more often when you come in to pick up art supplies – which is pretty neat! Winning!
Cold calling going from shop to shop and seeing if they might want a wall done, do my best job, and hopefully get the word-of-mouth which is priceless. I'm very thick skinned lol, so I just put myself out there.
Can you talk us through your process for creating.
Procrastinate then feel the pressure and adrenaline rising, then I get frustrated then I start over, then I miss deadlines, and come up with excuses to buy time then eventually it is done LOL.
Nah seriously, a shit ton of references. Then after studying it, I do warm up doodles, try to draw and study then reference after, but its only small drawings like thumbnail sizes. Sometimes, I use Photoshop to do collage work. But most of the time it's pen and ink. Start loose, then I clean it up.
As time passes and technology advances, it gives art new means and mediums to be used to express. There has been a rise in digital art/drawings because of accessibility. How do you feel about the use of modern devices to create artwork? Do you use tools like an ipad or tablet? Do you prefer more analogue materials like pen and ink? Or both?
Honestly, I prefer traditional mediums, because it's tangible and you can't “undo” and if you want to get into digital art, it is not recommended to do so without basic traditional art foundation. However, digital medium is undeniably useful it just speeds things up, bam bam bam and you are done. I use both traditional and digital, sketch in paper, then ink and colour in digital. But I still prefer traditional, it can really teach you a lot.
What music do you like to listen to while you create?
HIP-HOP. Sometimes Chinese music, Vantage Point podcast. Usually I just put on discover weekly by Spotify.
What’s the biggest you’ve painted? And how big do you want to go?
Probably the wall in Ganjeez restaurant in Braddon, 4m x 3.6m. I want to paint a 7 story building though!
What is your favourite work that you have produced so far?
Mural wise, the one in SHOOK bubble tea, which was a sculpture of David with graffiti on his face. T-shirt wise it has to be the Boom Box Kid for Sancho's Dirty Laundry for sure.
Plans for the future??? What are you aiming for and how will you get there? Is anything holding you back?
Plans for the future? I want to start an Art School, I enjoy teaching. Obviously financial capabilities is one of my weaknesses but I’m working hard towards it.
Can you explain what the t-shirt collab design is about?
The t-shirt collab design is about my affection for Street Culture in Canberra. I try to portray what I see in Canberra, the grimness, milk crate, arrest and graffiti. The Boom Box Kid is a character I had developed since I was back in uni. He represents the four elements of Hip Hop.
As a child of immigrant parents, I've come to realise that my folks uprooted their life to come to another country in the hopes of providing better opportunities for me - and with that comes a special pressure/responsibility to succeed and take advantage of the opportunities they didn't have. I'm curious - what do your parents think about the livelihood you have chosen to pursue along with your hobbies and interests here in Australia?
They are disappointed that I did not become a lawyer, chemist, doctor or priest, but they slowly come to realise I’m doing well and accept that I’m a visual person so they can’t do anything and plus they are old and far away. Sorry Mum and Dad, will make you proud one day.
They were strongly against me Breaking, but as I mention before, I have chronic stubbornness, anything that I want I will get it some how.
Lawrence's Dirty Laundry Tee Collab is now available in store and online. Hand screen-printed by Sancho's Dirty Laundry using water-based inks (enviro friendly). Limited to 100 pieces.
If you see something you like but would love it customised or perhaps you want something made-to-order, the artist is available for commissions!