Whenever I go out with my friends or drive around town, I always see this dog. Who is this dog? Why is it everywhere? Is there a cult behind it? It’s even nearby where I live in Cheras as well.
Sometimes, it doesn’t stay turquoise for long and has clothes or accessories sprayed on it later.
I wanted to find out who was behind it.
Started From Carcasses Of Stray Dogs
This dog graffiti is actually quite cute, but the history behind how it started, not so much. The man behind all of it is Kenji Chai, who calls this dog Chaigo.
Now, he’s not only made his mark on walls but on wrists too in a collaboration with BOLDR Supply Co to design a limited edition watch.
Chaigo is a wordplay of his surname “Chai” and the Chinese word for dog, “gou”. He’s a 38-year-old from Sabah who moved to KL in 1999 to grow his career. Kenji lives in Cheras too, which makes sense why I run into his graffiti often.
However, he grew bored with his graphic designing job at Gempak Starz because of how routine it felt.
Kenji started painting more to help with the boredom, but one day, something struck him which led to the birth of Chaigo.
“I saw a lot of stray dogs getting hit by cars on highways. I relate to them because I come from a broken family but feel the need to chase my dreams in KL,” Kenji shared with Vulcan Post.
“Unlike these stray dogs, I knew I had the power to change my life,” Kenji shared in an interview with SEA Mashable.
Chaigo became both his newfound love and alter ego, whom he left his 9-5 job for.
“Working as a graphic designer for a while, I found that there are too many guidelines and restrictions. I had no freedom to do what I wanted to do.”
“When I’m out there on the streets painting, my mind is free to do anything. I make my own guidelines,” he shared in an interview with Puma.
Though his family was unhappy with his decision, Kenji was glad he finally could immerse himself in his art without anyone breathing down his neck.
When he started spraying Chaigo on the walls, it was all just for fun.
The first Chaigo graffiti he’d ever done was in Kampung Attap, near Zhongshan building.
Over the years he has been stopped and warned before, but he enjoys the thrill of getting caught that comes with graffiti art.
However, he made an effort to start wearing proper graffiti gear so that he doesn’t get the side-eye from people anymore.
Gaining Traction And Going International
When Kenji first started Chaigo, he didn’t have a plan to grow it.
But in just a year, Chaigo was already recognised by big brands and organisations.
He was paid a commission to paint Chaigo on a wall in 2014, and later started receiving invitations for collaborations.
Besides Chaigo, Kenji does graffiti of other animals or people for buildings as well.
You may have come across the big rooster graffiti at Nando’s Petaling Street (now permanently closed).
That artwork was done by Kenji, and so is the 25-storey mural on the side of RED by Sirocco Hotel at Jalan Kamunting, near Yut Kee.
The 87-metre artwork took Kenji 21 days to finish, which landed him recognition from the Malaysia Book of Records for the Tallest Mural in the country in 2018.
It features a Dayak woman accompanied by flora and fauna, which is Kenji’s niche, and hawker food.
Not only has Kenji established a household name for himself and his graffiti in Malaysia, but his work is also admired internationally.
His artwork can be seen in China, Spain, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and more.
Kenji gets invited to share his art at these places.
In 2018, he was invited by an Australian mural artist to paint a large shark mural to highlight environmental issues in Brisbane.
No Regrets Ever Since He Left His Job
Leaving his job and making art he likes at his own pace full-time positively changed Kenji’s life.
Kenji shared with Vulcan Post that his revenue from collaborations is likely to last him for years, so it’s safe to say that doing what he loves is paying off.
That being said, he still would’ve done it even if he wasn’t earning well from it.
“As long as there is one person who appreciates my art, that is enough for me to continue doing what I love.”
Since starting Chaigo, he no longer struggles with his career like he used to.
Kenji’s art has actually been more present in my life than I realised, now that I’ve found the artist behind those murals on buildings.
He’s defied the odds of a starving artist and graffiti painter, especially in Malaysia.
However, these negative perceptions of independent artists still haunt many in our country today.
Leaving your job to pursue what you love sounds like a dream, but you’re not guaranteed a journey that’s as smooth-sailing as Kenji’s.
Then again, with people like Kenji paving the way for more budding artists, I hope more of our local talent is given the opportunity to make it to the international stage in the future.
- You can find out more about Kenji Chai here.
- You can read about other artists we’ve written about here.
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Featured Image Credit: Kenji Chai, creator of Chaigo