Photo Essay: “Knives In The Water” a Solo Exhibition by Speak Cryptic

By Clara Cheong

(1005 words, 7-minute read)

On a blazing hot afternoon last week, I stepped into the welcome cool of one of Gillman Barrack’s newest private art galleries, Chan + Hori ContemporaryThe artist behind the iconic illustrations on the walls of BooksActually and The Projector, Speak Cryptic (Farizwan Fajari) was having his first solo exhibition in 10 years in Singapore with “Knives In The Water”.

Here are some of my favourites:

(Image credit: Speak Cryptic)

These metaphysical portraits allude to the turmoil and complexities of interpersonal relationships between others and self. The creative twists to each of his characters convey a specific state or experience in the broad spectrum of the human condition.

SCKITW(Image credit: Speak Cryptic)

These framed sketches on paper appeared to me like two-dimensional snow globes. Each character is trapped. A sense of anxiety, maybe even a mix between contesting against mass ideology and resignation pervades. These characters extend like a narrative drive, acting as a visual monologue of Speak’s personal landscape.


The artist’s subjects are laden with hidden symbolism and tension. Many of the works contain recurrent iconographies. The leather jackets, topographic helmets, occasionally supplemented with diamond emblems, swords and antennas create a unity across the different characters.

SC collage

The badges are stylistically reminiscent of the punk rock dress code. The bold statements appear as a visual protest, and act in lieu of a title. They are muted but direct.


In place of hair, the subjects have highly dense foliage. Stylistically, these topiary-like graphic lines are one of the unique signature of Speak Cryptic’s illustrations. Unlike the manicured shrubs that are associated with the Garden State of Singapore however, the leaves appear overgrown, and unkempt. The organic formations surrounding the heads of the subjects have a life-force of their own. Set atop the head of these characters with such density and expressive strokes, the cluster could also resembles a swarm of bees, speaking to the disturbed mental state of his subjects.


There were several urban landscapes in this collection. They appear as brutal angular constructions, bereft of human presence. Despite the lack of specification, the structure of this cryptic building with its circular logo hints to a powerhouse of influence, reminding me of the monolithic power of authority.


There is a dystopian feeling to Speak’s urban spaces. In place of the carefully manicured greenery of urban landscaping, the space is overrun with the recurrent image of wild shrubs through the windows and roof. They are intently framed such that the rampant, jungle overgrowth appears to be cut off by the canvas, effectively suggesting an inescapable sense of being overthrown. The brushstrokes draw a strong contrast between the stagnating stillness of these man-made constructions, against the lively organic flow of life. Nature seems to be on the march, maybe even taking its revenge?


Walking through the gallery, passing these large canvases of varying thematic symbols and iconographies, I had the impression that these illustrations were meticulously pre-planned. However stepping in this afternoon, we were treated to the artist, before an unmarked canvas, signature black paint in one hand, while he free painted the canvas unreservedly. An artistic veteran, his images transpire onto the canvas like a subconscious revelation.

I get the same introspective feeling when visiting an aquarium as when watching Speak Cryptic paint – the quiet arresting beauty that seems to come with looking on while being fully conscious that you’re on the outside of somebody else’s bubble. It was both captivating and alluring observing the artist’s uninhibited brushstrokes bringing character to life onto a blank canvas.


Art is a sport! Just as NHL hockey captain Jonathan Toews explains, “The harder you work, the easier it looks.” Long hours in the gallery, painting can certainly create “some issues (for the) shoulders,” says Speak, who makes it a point to stretch before he begins each session. The mental prep-talk begins as soon as he leaves his home on his hour-long commute to the gallery.

“As soon as I get in, I roll up my sleeves and give it all I got.”

Speak Cryptic reveals that being an artist is no holiday from the monotony associated with the corporate world. Producing quality art takes more than a creative aptitude. It is consistency, dedication, and hard work, day after day!


A friend comes by to chat about ideas and keep friendly company


“It’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.”


Unlike the spread of grimey paint brushes and paint pots that is widely associated with artistic processes and studios, I discover a neat collection of simple supplies.


I find his setup reflective of his philosophy towards his art. A cup of diluted iced latte, a tin can to soak the brushes, and an assortment of brushes of varying sizes, phone cables and a tube of black paint. A collection of everyday tools that are simple and effective.

If like us, you’re just as nosy and passionate about all things art, you’ll be happy to know that visitors are welcome to observe Speak paint daily from 12pm – 6pm in the gallery throughout the exhibition period.

There will be a Closing Party happening on the 25 May (Thu), 7pm at Chan + Hori Contemporary, where completed works will be unveiled. Thursday is practically Friday, so make that plan with the friend(s) you’ve been meaning to catch up with now!

Click here for live updates from the gallery. And here for more information about Speak Cryptic. 

This is Clara’s first published article on Arts Equator. Hi there I’m Clara, an undergraduate from LASALLE College of The Arts. Another dang millennial from Singapore that believes art is a third language we ought to learn – besides our mother tongue and English – and a youthful idealist who strongly believes in the impact artists can make. Basically reading/ viewing/ organizing/ participating/ learning about the arts makes me feel alive. My sister thinks I’m in the range of subpar to gross but my dog thinks I’m the best. I strive to be somewhere in-between.

If you have any feedback/ upcoming art projects you would like to be listed (student works too!), please do not hesitate to contact me via



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