Why'd he do it? Meet the man behind the 'Why' graffiti

By Dharel Placido, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Oct 20 2014 04:57 PM | Updated as of Oct 22 2014 12:21 AM

MANILA — If you happened to wander around Bonifacio Global City in Taguig or Ortigas Center in Pasig, chances are you have already come across one of the "Why" graffiti pieces that are curiously placed on walls, posts, or pedestrian lanes.

The graffiti art has captured the attention of passers by, as the work triggered them to reflect and ask the "whys" in their lives while on their way home or wading through a sea of people during the morning rush hour.

''It provokes you to think about why you do what you do — like, 'what motivates you?''' said a friend who has grown interested in the sudden emergence of the ''Why'' graffiti pieces around the metro.

''It jolts you somehow into going outside yourself and view what has become of you from a different perspective,'' he added.

The man behind the graffiti, who granted ABS-CBNnews.com a one-on-one interview on condition of anonymity, said a very personal event in his life was what pushed him to adorn the walls of Metro Manila with the “Why” graffiti.

The artist did not want to reveal that particular event, but he said it is "a normal human experience… it is universal, it happens to anyone." Without going into details, he said the experience somehow lowered his self-esteem.

"[During] the initial phase, the first month, I was so mad. The experience was so fresh. One night, I went out alone, I wanted to shout. That happens to you, right? But I wanted to do something more, so that’s what I did," he said.

In this undated photo, the artist, facing backwards, is depicted attempting to put a "Why" graffiti work on the road. Photo by Jeff Reyes.

Why 'Why'?

Apart from his personal circumstances, the artist said he chose the word "Why" because of its power to provoke thought.

He believes his street art has transcended his personal struggle, with his stencil works triggering people to ponder and do some introspection.

"It's powerful. It's just one word but it can be interpreted in so many ways - it can be about happiness, sadness, almost anything," he said.

"For me what's more relevant and significant now is how people react [to my works]. When I saw their reactions, read their post, I was surprised.

"Seeing people in the act of taking pictures of my works is perhaps one of the ultimate affirmations of my efforts."

He added that even though he was overwhelmed with emotions, choosing the word "Why" was something he though hard about.

"Choosing the word 'why' was a conscious decision. When you're on the street, you don't have the time to read or look at stuff. So it's just one word. That's why I came up with 'Why,'" he said.

Cats in gas masks, Malaysia Airlines

The artist said he made his first foray into street art with the help of his nephew, who is also interested in this art form. His first project was to scatter images of cats wearing gas masks.

"It has an anti-pollution message. I hate pollution. I hate smoke belchers," he said.

He also did some silhouettes of airplanes after the story of the missing Malaysia Airlines MH370 plane broke.

The artist, who works in a well-known advertising firm, said street art has become his outlet, citing the restrictions to creativity he faces in his regular job.

"They are worlds apart. It's also the reason why I went to street art because advertising is just basically obeying people with businesses, people with money," he said.

"You’re a slave, doing what they tell you even if you make nice artworks, nice concepts."

Banned in Ayala

As with some street artists doing non-commissioned graffiti pieces, the "Why" man also had a run-in with authorities.

While on his way home after one of his pre-dawn "bombing" sessions in Makati's Ayala district, he said he was caught by security guards carrying his materials.

"I was not caught red-handed. A security guard on motorcycle flagged me down. He saw my stuff -- spray paints, stencils. They brought me to the sites where I had just did my stencil works. Almost a dozen security guards ganged up on me. They were so pissed. They ordered me to erase every street art I did," he said.

The artist said it took him two weeks to erase all his graffiti in Ayala.

"At first I got scared. I thought it was the end of that phase in my life. I was about to give up. It was the first time I felt being treated like a criminal. My self-esteem was already low. That didn't help," he said.

"After erasing the graffiti works, I went home to rest. But after resting I bombed again. I got addicted to it. It helps me, it’s like a drug - a safe drug. It motivates me, keeps me alive."

In this undated photo, the artist is depicted running after putting up a "Why" graffiti work on the wall. Photo by Jeff Reyes.

Anonymous

Coming from a family of artists and writers, the 'Why' man is no stranger to the arts and humanities growing up. His brother is a Palanca award-winning writer, while the two others work as an architect and a sculptor.

As a child, he also exhibited a keen interest on drawing in unusual spots, doodling his "terror teachers" on the walls of his school restroom.

But the artist said his attempt to enter the world of "mainstream" art has been unsuccessful so far, sharing that he was once turned down when he tried to set up an exhibit of his regular art pieces.

"I started doing street art because I found it hard to penetrate the regular art world. There are too much politics. Street art is instant, there is freedom, instant recognition. You get satisfied even it is just temporary. There is an unexplainable gratification," he said.

"But I still want to have the normal exhibit. Still, I want to remain anonymous. I want for my art to become the focus, not me."

The "Why" man said also part of the reason why he wants to remain anonymous at this point is because he is not yet fully satisfied with his work.

"If I come out now I may appear as a braggart. I'm not yet fully satisfied with my works. I don't see them as anything brilliant. I am still learning. I want to improve," he said.

The artist said he will continue to adorn Metro Manila with his Whys, noting that he has not yet fully recovered from his phase.

He said one of the most challenging spots that he has bombed so far is a church. He did not reply anymore when asked through SMS whether the church has significance to the event in his life that gave birth to this particular street art.