I really love street art. I love how it brings art to a wider audience. I love that it creates dialogue and thought. That it connects with people in unexpected ways. Living here in Manila, where the landscape is drab, dirty and depressing, I love that street art gives me something hopeful when I look out the windows and walk along the streets.
There is a street artist I have had an art-crush on for quite some time now over here. His work is unassuming within the landscape it shares, often located in low-lying places, in gutters or on street posts. A lot of it is discreet and you need to be on the look-out for his work. Then sometimes his images will pop out at you and shock you with their candidness. Sometimes it is when you least expect it, that a message of his will appear, as if trying to tell you something. That is part of the appeal to me. Then, suddenly, it is gone, and you continue to move through the daily chaos and carry on with the rest of your day.
Why Guy, as he is known, is a bit of an enigma.
But I think he likes it that way.
When you think of your most famous street artists like Banksy and Invader, you get that image in your mind of a hoodie covered shadow in the darkness of night. A rogue reprobate skulking through the streets, hanging by their toenails to leave a mark in the most obscure of places. Well, at least I did.
It turns out, that is not quite correct. First of all, Why Guy is actually quite an upstanding figure, intelligent, thoughtful and philosophical. By day he works as an Advertising Art Director, a career that conflicts him. In his spare time, he releases pent-up frustrations through art, including street art. And as for the skulking through the streets at night stereotype: ‘How I operate is well…I just blend in…I don’t wear any hoody or operate in the dead of night…you’d be surprised the best time to work is in the middle of the day…because it is too hot for anyone to be out…’
It took a while to track this guy down, he isn’t easy to find. We eventually started talking over Facebook Messenger. For him, it allows anonymity, it keeps a distance between us and he has his reasons for this: ‘I choose to be anonymous with my street art not because I want to be like Banksy…I choose to be anonymous because I’m just not comfortable with people in general’. For me though, I find there is an intimacy that surfaces in the daily general chit-chat and banter back and forth that a casual medium like Messenger allows. Moments of reflection and real honesty can be captured.
What strikes me about Why Guy is that he is just like most of us. An adult in a world that confounds and stifles him. A world where emotions are strong and run raw in the search for fulfilment. There is the man seeking love that is real and lasting: ‘The Whys all started when I got rejected by a girl…the first thing I could think of, since I was already doing a little street art as a way to cope with the stress of my advertising job, was to go outside and write WHY’.
There is the frustration of a remarkably talented artist, who feels let down by his profession. He tells me creating street art has kept him sane as he finds himself doing work that, ‘usually ends up mutilated by clients who feel they can do stuff better’.
There is the man who is fighting against the claustrophobia of social customs and the disparity between his values and that of his country. Street art provides a certain freedom, a separation from daily life: ‘It is a rush to go out and basically do what you like to do…literally the city is my canvas. No permission, no hassle, no human interface…it’s freedom on another level’.
The style of Why Guy is deliberate. One of his major frustrations is the clutter in Manila, the pollution, the lack of respect people show to their place. In contrast, his lines are solid, bold and clean. Why Guy likes to show discipline, ‘a far cry from what I normally see everyday’. To create his work, he uses both spray paint and multi-layered stickers which bring bright, contemporary imagery into the grey landscape.
‘Sometimes I get inspired by a location…then I just relate it to a personal experience…’
The themes in Why Guys work vary, from the questioning ‘Why’ and thought provoking phrases, through to his ‘Broken Fairytale’ series, to putting a new slant on local icons such as the Jollibee Bee. ‘I just want people to see my work and get a message even if it’s their own.’ That said, Why Guy’s own philosophy is simple. ‘I see the bad in good. Life has a funny way of surprising all of us. It pulls the rug when we least expect it…Yes we control mostly what and how we want to live…but inevitably nature, time or what I like to call the ‘real world’ messes with it’.
‘Why. It is a rhetorical question because I do not know the answer’.
Follow Why Guy on Instagram at @oldhaus