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Mark Ong on inspiration and creative process

Mark Ong

An interview with artist and sneaker customizer Mark Ong

Exploration, inspiration, creation, these are all parts of Mark Ong’s creative process. The Singaporean artist is globally recognized as one of the most important creative minds when it comes to sneaker customization.

The mita sneakers x SBTG x New Balance MRT580 (that quickly sold out when it was launched weeks ago) is just one of his latest projects. Mr. Sabotage (as he is also better known as) tells us that creation and the need to further express his views and imagination have always been there, ever since he was a kid.

Read our interview below and discover even more insight about an artist that is determined to leave a legacy.

When did you feel the urge to create (as in drawing) for the first time?

This was as far as I could remember; I would come home from school pull out my drawing block and sit in front of the TV drawing cartoons. I remember drawing He-man and Skeletor a lot. I did it every day without thinking. Mum had to buy paper for me to draw every week.

How would you define and characterize your creation process? Chaotic or more like an organized mind event?

It’s a mix of wanting to achieve something, like a milestone and wanting to explore something that I’m inspired by. It could be described as chaotic, especially during the exploration phase but eventually, I’m able to control and make sense of what the end result could be.

If I’m not able to define what will come out of it, I put it aside. For example, I got inspired by sign painting during my travels.

I will come back and start exploring, practicing the techniques and slowly I was able to inject my style into it, then I would offer it as a service to enhance retail experiences.
Mark Ong
What can you tell us about your journey so far – are there brands that have definitely had an influence on you along the way?

Brands and bands influence me. It is mostly Japanese brands like Wtaps and Undercover. I take inspiration from them on how to express my own influences better.

For bands, I resonate with Punk the most. Hence, the DIY approach to most of the things I do.

«I want to build a legacy that people can relate to. »

Tell us about your Misfits obsession and your belief about punk rock as the main inspiration…

I grew up skateboarding and it changed my life. It affected the way I thought and approached life and my set of values. Of course, Punk rock music was parallel to those values.

I learned to question authority and not to conform to the hallmark way of living. The misfits are a huge inspiration of self-expression.

To me, they are celebrating passion at a huge scale and attaining so much success with it. I want to build a legacy that people can relate to. For misfits by misfits.

Recently you collaborated with mita sneakers and New Balance on the MRT580 – can you share with us about that creative happening?

I have met Shigeyuki Kunii from mita sneakers a while ago and one day I just decided to write him an email asking if we would do a collab with NB together. It was a shot in the dark but he replied with a positive answer.

I was so stoked. We designed the shoe together and it was a smooth process. In essence, I designed a print and which he then incorporated into the shoes.

Once that was all set, we decided to have a lil fun on the insoles where I used Mita’s classic chain link fence graphic and my characters to tell a lil story of friendship.

I stitched up the story together with a wire cutter where it was used to cut a hole in the fence where characters on both sides were able to now shake hands. I was pretty happy about that.

Is there a brand that you can point out to the one you would very much like to collaborate with, and why?

I would really like to work with Vans and Converse on a project, they are brands that I been wearing my whole life and I feel that my artwork would look great on them.

Could there be such a thing as the perfect sneaker? 

I think everyone has their own opinion on what makes a perfect sneaker. To me, the 1985 Air Jordan 1 is a perfect sneaker. In terms of its superior construction (Korean made) and perfect silhouette and how it has influence over subculture.

But I have to talk about the recent Converse First String Chuck Taylor 70s. Now those are perfect to me.

A true OG style that is understated and what feels like lunar technology hidden inside. They are shoes that I wear an almost every day.

What could be your path from now on? You once said that sneakers are just becoming too small of a canvas for you to share your creations.

Yes, I did say that in my recent interviews. I meant customizing on sneakers specifically. But instead, I started teaching how to do it.

During that time, I was focusing on the exploration of defining my style on paintings and I think I have hit a milestone on that journey which I got to express it in the recent mita / NB project.

For now, we are focusing on a few things. Working with brands to come up with exciting products as usual. We have sneakers coming up with Thrasher and Palladium in the pipeline.

We are conducting sneaker custom workshops every month. Doing an Art show every year is also good.

We will be having a show in Manila with Secret Fresh Gallery next and we might also expand a lil on our clothing line. It’s all so much fun.

Discover more about Mark Ong’s work at Royale Fam’s Facebook page.