Gone are the days when art was confined to a paintbrush and an 8×10 cotton canvas. In this day and age, people have come to embrace life itself as an art form—whether it is the things you draw, the songs you listen to, the clothes you wear, or even the way you make your coffee. But beyond all that lies a revolutionary artistic movement that can speak the voice of a generation. This polarizing phenomenon is none other than street art.
For street artists, the world is their canvas. And indeed, art has come a long way from prehistoric cave drawings, angsty doodles in the high school bathroom, or even the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Street art is one of the world’s largest art movements since the Andy Warhol era in the 1950s. Artists have taken their craft from their posh galleries to the city streets, choosing no audience. For decades, graffiti has fueled intense debate within the public community. Is it self-expression? Vandalism? An act of rebellion? Or all of the above?
As street art makes its way to Philippine soil, locals do not hold back in mixing, not only their own personal culture, but also that of their country. As the figurative blue, red, yellow, and white paint mix, see the maturation of what was once mere vandalism of public property.
It seems rare when an artist’s first contact with expression is street art. Most cases prove that their initial interests come much closer to home before evolving into the eventual gutsy medium. This was the case for Distort. The self-proclaimed unknown writer who opted for a level of confidentiality offered two more tag names that could be used to refer to him. One was an expletive and the other was a Spanish translation of the initial expletive.
Distort’s journey began with skateboarding, an interest he developed during the tail end of his primary schooling here in the Philippines. He fell in love with the subculture that led him to meet more people who were both active in the physical aspect of the sport as well as the design.
It is difficult to find a proper analogy to describe street art. It would seem that no pre-existing knowledge similarly encapsulates its essence. That being said, Distort’s journey proves that skateboarding is an appropriate comparison. Both are an expression and an art. Both require perfection before expectations are changed when someone comes close to reaching it. Both are viewed as a criminal act but prove that breaking the law is not a goal but a by-product. Skateboarding seems to be an excellent way to be introduced to the culture of street art, and while there are other ways to be introduced to the art, one thing is for sure: this wax on, wax off approach has birthed many of the most popular street artists worldwide, and it is difficult to argue with consistent success in the industry.
Manila has been under-going a much-needed face-lift—and it’s just about time. No, we have yet to see the rise of futuristic glass buildings and hover cars, but one of the more noticeable changes in this urban jungle is the resurgence of street art.
The phenomenon has been making waves in the local scene, stronger now than any tide you can find among the country’s 7,107 islands. Among those surfing the currents is professional artist, businessman, and designer Dee Jae Pa’Este. Those who frequent Bonifacio Global City have surely come across one of his more popular pieces; the signature tribal woman with multi-colored flowing hair adorned with leaves and flowers. For Dee Jae, the natural high one gets from taking this little, tiny idea and painting it onto a 50ft wall for everyone to enjoy is incomparable. “You make it tangible and a part of the atmosphere, it almost becomes alive,” he shares. “I’m being given the chance to create large scale art in public places and share it with people that might not have the luxury or means to buy art or even have time to enjoy it.”
According to Dee Jae, by changing someone’s environment, you also have the power to change their whole world, and this role is no joke. As an artist, he feels he has this unspoken responsibility to uplift those around him with art, music, emotions, and tools. Having lived in California, New York, and Tokyo, he claims that that feeling is most awake within him here in the Philippines. “I want to reflect that back and into it and on the walls all over the country,” he adds.
So how different is street art from other forms of art? Dee Jae, who likes to dabble in different mediums—from old wood, records, boxes, to repurposed plywood—discusses that each element and tool has a life of its own. “The way I ink my drawings is so different from the way I paint my brush strokes, and how I spray-paint my outlines. Everything is part of the same flow, just a different state of mind,” he explains. This is his way of connecting his creativity back to nature.
But what message does street artist Dee Jae hope to send? “A heavy theme in my artwork is balance,” he replies. “We are always seeking balance, whether we realize it or not. It plays upon nature and technology trying to co-exist while bringing some spirituality and culture into patterns and elements in my art that reflect my travels, my personal influences, and also my roots.” From this personal philosophy, it is safe to say that street art is definitely more than just something that looks nice on people’s Instagram profiles. Additionally, most of Dee Jae’s works are an ode to Mother Nature. “I want to remind us about the beauty that still exists in this place we live,” he continued.
Away from dark days
As the movement expands itself into the norm and creative niche, let’s hope that urbanization and conservatism won’t have to beat graffiti to the finish line. But does street art have the potential to stand the test of time? “Street art will always have a place in society and the world because people who don’t have the means or access to galleries and platforms have a voice to express it,” Dee Jae believes.
The future of graffiti is looking bright for more and more artists are getting commissioned by the city and businesses to paint in public spaces and areas. Indeed, street art has made its mark as more than just vandalism and an act done by masked hoodlums in the dark. “I look forward to seeing the Philippines covered in art and murals rather than advertisements and brand names,” the creative maestro remarks. Indeed, street art is reverting society back to hand-made creativity and adornments of culture.