Jappy Agoncillo Makes Manila His Canvas

Jappy Agoncillo was born into the melting pot of 1990’s Manila, raised on a steady diet of western television and comic books that have resulted in his pop-culture infused creations.

But Jappy wasn’t always on the artist’s path he’s on now—after becoming disenchanted with his law degree and the idea of a mundane 9 to 5, he threw the corporate towel in and decided to take a chance on his creative career. And it’s paid off—Jappy now creates illustrations, painting and large-scale murals all over the Philipines and beyond. He’s also one of a handful of artists that Adobe has tapped to create work that reimagines the world around them in support of Photoshop Fantastic Voyage, a campaign that’s seen artists from Sydney to Manila compositing their designs onto cityscapes in their hometown. (Check out their competition page where there’s a grand prize of $5000 USD up for grabs, plus Creative Cloud subscriptions and $500 for runners up.) We got in touch with Jappy to find out more about his dynamic work that turns one of his favourite local spots into an otherworldly image.

Where did you grow up, and do you think it had any influence on the art you create today?

I grew up in Manila, Philippines. I think yeah, for the most part, my experiences have greatly informed the way I think and the way I look at things, which in turn would influence my artwork. We’re a South-East Asian developing nation, but we also have had a very westernized society, having been colonized for most of our recorded history. So, growing up, I was very much steeped in traditional Filipino culture, Western culture, and the culture that has sprung up as an amalgamation of both; there’s also other cultures I experienced, as I have some Chinese and some Spanish ancestry. So as a kid, I’d be watching western TV shows and reading comics and listening to Guns N’ Roses; eating traditional Filipino dishes and learning our history and culture at school; and also celebrating Lunar New Year with relatives, having siestas and Spanish last names. It’s an interesting and unique Filipino perspective to be raised in for sure.

If we came to your city for a weekend, where’s some go-to spots you’d take us?

One of the cool parts about Metro Manila is that it’s several cities all connected, and you can go from one to the other in minutes (or an hour depending on traffic). But that also means there’s way too much to do for just one weekend. For some history, I’d take you guys to Manila, to Intramuros (the walled city) which is one of the last remaining vestiges of our Spanish colonial era, the revolution, and WWII. There’s a lot of great architecture, art, and street food there and in Manila Chinatown. I’d take you to see Manila Bay and to the Mall of Asia, one of the largest malls in the country. I’d like you guys to check out BGC, a high-end business and lifestyle area, full of malls and offices and murals, and by night, a lot of music, skateboarding, and food too. There’s a bustling nightlife in Población, a neighbourhood in Makati City famous for its bars and hole-in-the-wall food options. Lastly, I could take you guys to nearby Nuvali, for wakeboarding, and maybe Tagaytay City, a popular day trip area an hour from the Metro where you could get coffee with a view of Taal Volcano.

You mentioned that the spot you chose in Manila was a dream spot for you. What is it about this place that you love so much and made it the perfect canvas?

I think when I was starting out my career as an artist and muralist, that spot was always on my mind. When I was starting out, the BGC area had annual mural festivals with local and international artists. I volunteered as a painting assistant for the 2016 festival, before I had even started painting professionally. Ever since then, my dream was to have a giant piece in the area, and I would look at all the available spots in BGC and that particular wall caught my eye; it was large, blank, and had a great view all around it and could be seen from the street. BGC is largely considered as the gold standard for having a mural in Manila, at least in mainstream consciousness—even people who are disconnected with the art world would quickly associate murals with the area. So, in the back of my mind, even if my perspective of the art scene has grown and matured since then, that had always been one of the milestones I someday hope to achieve. The mural festival had been discontinued for some time, but I still someday hope to make it happen.


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A post shared by Jappy Agoncillo (@jappylemon)

Alien tiger astronauts—where does the idea for this artwork stem from?

I was milling over the ideas in my head when I was conceptualizing the piece, and of course, the possibilities are endless when you’re given complete free rein over an artwork. At some point, I just told myself to just draw what you love and what you know, and the idea shaped itself from there. Tigers have always been my go-to character. One of the first artworks I ever made and turned into a sticker was a blue tiger with three eyes, and as long as I can remember I would always be recreating that piece in new ways, and this is  the latest version of it. I also always had a fascination with space and the possibility of other realities and parallel dimensions, and I always think about the scale we all live in, and how vast the cosmos could possibly be. So, with these things in mind, it just evolved and developed from there. I wanted to create a character that embodied that, and I wanted to make great use of the space and the platform, so why not let it jump out of the wall instead of just being a mural on it? And what kind of crazy unimaginable things could come from dimensions far away? Let’s throw that in there too!

Are there any particular symbolic elements within the work?

Nothing in particular, but the focus was really to contrast the ordinary lines and colours and textures in the photo with something wild and colourful—really give it that otherworldly feel. I think I wanted to create something that would feel impossible or illogical and challenge people’s perceptions of what can and cannot be done. In a way, that can be a metaphor for having freedom in art. Like why are there flowers coming from the tiger’s head? Why is he wearing a helmet but his face pops out of it? Why are the elements dripping? Well, why not?

You have a whole bunch of inspiration you draw from, such as comic books, fantasy stories and sci-fi, but what about Manila itself? Do any influences from the city find their way into your work?

Yes, for sure. I think it’s the fact that Metro Manila feels like its own living organism, there’s so much energy and so much to see and do, that it lends itself to the amount of energy I want from my artworks. It’s such a colourful city that when I do artwork on the street or artwork on the subject of Manila itself, I feel the need to match its energy, to try to contain it in a mural or an illustration; to capture the hustle, the sights, the sounds, and make something out of it.

I read in a book that art is the artist revealing themselves to the world, and that’s something I still strongly believe; anything you make is the culmination of your experiences, your beliefs, your culture, your likes, dislikes, and whatever else. So yeah, together with my love for all that pop culture stuff as an inspiration for my work, just as much of it would be my life here in Manila… maybe just not as obvious, perhaps.

Did you experiment with any new Adobe tools for the creation of this work, or stick with tried and tested favourites?

A little bit of both. I created a large bulk of the artwork on Photoshop for iPad, so that was a new experience as I hadn’t been at it for that long. I learned the tools that were on there, both the classics and the ones optimized for the platform. It’s quite a bit different from what I’m used to with the desktop program. I then opened up the file on desktop and played around with new brushes I don’t normally get to use on Photoshop, using new textures and shapes. It was pretty fun to try new things on an old favourite.

Create your own world with Adobe Photoshop here.

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