06 June 2017

Filipino Street Artists at Meeting of Styles 2017 share why they pursue Graffiti

Meeting of Styles is an international network of graffiti artists and aficionados that began in Wiesbaden, Germany in 2002. Its main highlight as a forum is the yearly graffiti jam, which attracts hundreds of graffiti enthusiasts. The event was initially launched to provide a focal point for urban street culture and graffiti art to reach a larger community.

Which started in Germany is now hosted in different cities across the globe. The movement continually grew as more and more people wanted to host Meeting of Styles where they are located. In 2014, Meeting of Styles was brought to our local shores thanks to the initiative of Trip63. And last April 22, the fourth edition of Meeting of Styles Philippines took place at Anonas LRT City Center in Quezon City, where the MoS Philippines 2016 was also held. 

This year's iteration of Meeting of Styles is the biggest one so far. The organizers managed to bring dozens of foreign artists from different countries like Japan, South Korea, Italy, and the United States. Together with their local counterparts, MoS Philippines definitely served its role as a melting pot, where all artists got to exchange ideas, works, and skills. Given this huge event for the local graffiti community, it led us to yearn for a deeper understanding of what it means to them. We talked to five Filipino street artists with different backgrounds who have been pursuing graffiti to know more about this culture.

Photography by Zaldine Jae Alvaro

Bato is a full-time visual artist from Quezon City and a member of the collective Pilipinas Street Plan. He is also part of the graffiti crews – Jokers (JKS) and Guerilla Aerosol Kru (GAK). With unbridled passion to create, he has become a regular name in the art scene. Whether for his own solo show or as part of a group exhibit, he has been continuously putting out impressive works.

"Graffiti is not just a movement, it is a lifestyle. If you love to do something then be one with it and embrace it."

How and when did you start pursuing graffiti?
I started graffiti eight years ago, just some random tags on walls using cheap markers and local cans with stock caps. Because during that time access to supplies was hard. And I also started doing some (sticker) slaps at the same time.

Why do you pursue it?
Well, graffiti has been there for me ever since, graffiti and street art in general gave me freedom to express what ever my heart and mind desires.

How do events like Meeting of Styles help you as an artist?
I participated in Meeting of Styles Philippines since the start. I experienced the transition of it from just an ordinary paint jam to an event where in almost a hundred graff heads painted. These kind of events help in keeping the graffiti scene alive, not just for me as an artist but also for everyone who made their world revolve around graffiti. Events like MoS keep the fire burning, inspiring the old writers/artist to continue what they are doing, and to inspire the newcomers to continue to pursue what they are looking to achieve.

What led to your transition from doing graffiti to being a full-time artist?
Being an artist is not what is meant for me as a profession, but I pursued it because of my passion. I can say that graffiti embraced me all throughout, it became my platform to explore new ways to create, and new things to make. Graffiti will always be a part of me, it is a huge puzzle piece of myself that can never be altered, and I will be doing this until I die. In order to feed my hunger, I commit myself in perfecting my craft and continuously pushing my self to showcase better works not only for myself but also for the community.

How has painting walls shaped you into the artist that you are today? 
Graffiti is not just a movement, it is a lifestyle. If you love to do something then be one with it and embrace it. That was my life-belief which also applies to why I do graffiti. Graffiti's diverse nature helped me to keep pushing myself to do even better and rewarded me with a sense of fulfillment with each piece I created.

Despite your numerous shows and projects, why do you still pursue graffiti?
What I create in galleries is in a different context to what I do in graffiti, I can say that there are two kinds of myself in the art scene, I wanted to create works which would differentiate one from the other. What I do in graffiti is what I can call the free-spirited side of me. I paint a dog for the sole reason that I want to paint a dog, no other political agenda or propaganda, it just makes me happy when I do graffiti, no other reasons.

A resident of Mandaluyong aka Tiger City, Meow's love for hiphop led him to practicing both its music and visual elements. He represents graff crews – SDFK, TCMF, and SBA. Aside from his proficiency with spray paint, he also writes rhymes and rocks the microphone for Murder Death Kill and Sabretooth Academy.

"Graffiti for me is a competition with myself and others."

How and when did you start pursuing graffiti?
I started doing graffiti because of hiphop. I did my first piece in 2003 or 2004. My cousin gave me a copy of The Source along with baggy pants to get me started on what to wear. I learned a lot from that issue, not just the brands that I should be getting, but also about the elements of hiphop. Practicing all four was impossible, my body couldn't handle breakdancing and I couldn't afford a turntable back then so I got stuck with rap and graffiti.

My father had spray paints for his car and there are some that I use for model kits, so it wasn't hard for me to get started with graffiti. I didn't know people who did graffiti so I usually painted by myself, or sometimes I tag with some gangsters in our neighborhood.

I met Flip 1 (Philippine graffiti pioneer) at a hardware store, he was purchasing cans that he would use for a hiphop event the same day. We exchanged numbers in that encounter, and since then, he has been getting me to paint with him together with some local and foreign graff writers.

Why do you pursue it?
I love the feeling of just painting on a wall – doing everything on the spot, being able to finish with limited time and coming up with my own style. Graffiti for me is a competition with myself and others. There are goals that I want to achieve. I always try to come up with something new, go as big as I can, test my skill and improve.

How do events like Meeting of Styles help you as an artist?
I'm challenged to push myself further since there is a wider audience, and it's almost like competing with foreigners and representing the country. The exposure can get you connections, and Artists can learn from each other.

How different is your creative process when you sketch a graffiti piece compared to when you write rap lyrics?
I don't really do sketches for my graffiti pieces, everything is done on the spot. Though there are times that I do letter studies, I don't really prepare or bring a sketch for a painting session. During my first couple of years doing graffiti, I would bring a sketch. But eventually I realized that I have a hard time copying what's on paper, and it is a waste of time to draw something on paper and then do it again on the wall.

Writing for me is time consuming. I don't get satisfied with my lyrics that easily. What I've recorded now might have some or a lot of changes soon. Though sometimes it's too late once there's been an official release so I would try to recite the new lyrics during gigs.

How does music affect your art?
I don't think it does, or if so, not much. Hiphop gets me hyped so I'm just gonna have my head bopping while painting or drawing but it wouldn't really have any effect on the output.

Why do you prioritize your art over your music?
I work as an artist for a living. Though it may not be graffiti in particular, the fact that I would have to do art to earn keeps me from writing and making art for myself. Graffiti is something that I can squeeze in without taking too much time from my other priorities since all I have to do is just go out and paint. Unlike with writing, I would still need to set up that mood or get in the zone and have that sudden burst of ideas. But there was a period in my life when I was more into rapping than in graffiti or art. I guess once I've decided on doing a solo project then I'm gonna be focusing more on making music, but right now I'm just working on verses for collaborations and for Sabretooth Academy and MDK.

Born, raised, and currently residing in Quezon City, Kookoo is hailed by many as the most prominent female graffiti artist in the Philippines. She picked up graffiti eight years ago, and have continuously progressed as an artist. In a field started and dominated by men, she has earned respect, and is a testament that gender is not a hindrance for an artist who is into her craft.

"We are in the 21st century, I believe both men and women are equally empowered, driven and strong."

How and when did you start pursuing graffiti? 

When I was in college (Fine Arts), almost all of my friends do street art, after school or sometimes over the weekend. I usually watch and document them during their paint sessions. I got curious, and one day I tried painting graffiti with my blockmates. My friends and colleagues in this community inspired and motivated me to do more. That was in 2009, and that’s when I officially fell in love with street art.

Why do you pursue it? 
I feel alive and stoked whenever I do it, especially together with other artists. I like the idea of doing it as a public art, which can reach different people from different walks of life in random scenarios. Like for example, commuters going to and from work, passersby, people stuck in traffic, etc.  For me, as counterpart of my canvas paintings, this is my extrovert-side. I just want to positively contribute as much as I can to our urban art community in providing art more accessible to the public.

How do events like Meeting of Styles help you as an artist? 
For me, meeting and observing other artists is one way of learning, and this is the best time I can watch and observe other artists I admire and look up to. This kind of event makes our (art) community stronger too, in terms of acknowledging and establishing that we urban artists truly exist and create.

As a female graffiti artist, are there any hardships or disadvantages that you face? 
I actually prefer being called an "Artist" without categorizing my gender. As an artist, painting graffiti is challenging in terms of unpredictable factors such as weather and location; but that’s what makes it more exciting because it’s the artist who has to adjust and improvise in different kinds of environment he/she is in.

In a scene filled with men, why should female artists pursue it? If a young female graffiti artist would ask you for advice, what would you tell her?
We are in the 21st century, I believe both men and women are equally empowered, driven and strong. I believe it doesn’t really make a difference of what gender you’re in as long as you are practicing and focusing on your craft. My piece of advice to an artist who wants to pursue street art is to keep on creating and reaching out. Find the right people to inspire you positively, and charge your bad days to experiences. I believe that every artist has their personal struggles, may it be financially, emotionally or mentally, and their art are sometimes compromised. My advice is to make it as your motivation to keep going forward. All the sketches in your sketchpad (or blackbook), materialize it. Go out, find your wall, paint it, and show it. Each day, make sure to reach your full potential as a person and as an artist.

Hailing from San Juan City, Chill of Three Flare Krew (TFK) and PSP started with street art by slapping stickers and painting stencils with his college friends back in 2006. A year later, he decided to focus more on graffiti by doing tags, bombs, and pieces. Today, he works as a photographer and muralist, while not relenting to his decade-old relationship with graffiti.

"At the time, there was no outlet for young people like me to showcase or display their works. But the streets became our canvas and our gallery."

How and when did you start pursuing graffiti?
I started in 2007 when I first saw PSP – their graffiti and stickers adorned the walls and scattered around the streets of Manila. I also figured most of them came from FEU, so I searched for them, hung out with them, and learned from them. That's how all these paint sessions began.

Why do you pursue it?
At the time, there was no outlet for young people like me to showcase or display their works. But the streets became our canvas and our gallery.

How do events like Meeting of Styles help you as an artist?
It is where different cultures unite to do one thing they love doing, and share the same passion for it.

How would you compare the graffiti scene today to a decade ago when you first started out?
Back then, it was a struggle, nobody knows where they belong and what to do. Every one has their own thing. There was lack of materials. But the energy we had was different back then. We were fresh, we were excited.

What made you continue doing graffiti?
I love what I'm doing. I like painting walls, the camaraderie, sharing techniques, and different styles. I never lost the fire that made me do what I'm still doing. I kept the fire burning by always doing new things.

Ten years in, what gives you the purpose to continue as an artist?
Seeing the community come together and grow bigger, opportunities keep popping up, and people noticing what we do and call it art and us, artists.

Never represents his hometown of Santa Rosa City with his crew Laguna Graff Squad (LGS). Currently residing in Marikina City, he is also a member of PSP, TFK, ECDK, and GAK. A graphic artist by day, and a graffiti artist on his free time, he makes sure to always allot a budget for spray paint to keep doing what he's passionate about.

"I can buy my stuff for graffiti because I have a day job. I paint on weekends or when there's free time."  

How and when did you start pursuing graffiti?
I started around 2009, trying out something different during my college years, and seeing a lot of graffiti around Manila is what kept me from pushing it.

Why do you pursue it?
It's a different medium of getting your artwork to be seen by the public. Also, it's my stress reliever, and I think a place with graffiti makes it better.

How do events like Meeting of Styles help you as an artist?
It's an exposure to a bigger audience because Meeting of Styles is an international event. You are surrounded by many foreign and local artists that keep the scene moving. And connecting with them is what helps me as an artist.

Can one pursue graffiti while also having a day job?
I can buy my stuff for graffiti because I have a day job. I paint on weekends or when there's free time. I make sure I paint once a month.

What keeps you focused on your art while also tending to your livelihood?
I separate my art from my livelihood. I try to always keep the balance between the two.

How important is it to have a day job but still pursue graffiti for you?
It's kind of hard to earn money in graffiti, there's a lot of players out there, so having a day job for me is important to sustain this graffiti stuff. Well basically, it keeps me going as a graffiti artist. It's a huge challenge on how do I keep up, but at least I can manage to paint on a regular basis.


How can I get in touch with artist - Kookoo? Thanks

You can go to her Instagram page, https://www.instagram.com/kookoo.ramos/

How can I get in touch with any artist here who replies immediately?
It's for my subject's paper. Thanks!

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