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The 2010s have given birth to an avalanche of young creatives, all wanting to make a living out of their artistic passions and pursuit. Mahirap kumita ng pera in general, mumsh, and maybe even more so for those who want to get into art.  

So bes, how can you have your cake and eat it too, so to speak? We recently caught up with street art wiz Jappy Agoncillo for tips on how to break into the biz.

When you start thinking of turning your art into more of a career, do you start with inspiration? Where did you begin?

I started young, like 8 years old. I learned to draw from my uncle. It became my passion, and that identified me as an artist.

I started doing murals when I was in college. A school org asked me to paint a wall for them. That was my first mural. After I posted online, I got a lot of offers from students and young business owners. They would ask me “hey, can we help each other out? I’m starting out, you’re starting out. Help us, we’ll help you.” That got me working with a lot of startups, and I just gained traction from there.

Axe You ambassador for art, Jappy Agoncillo

How important is social media for you as an artist?

Very. Back in the day, when you want to get noticed you have to send your work to people or you have to be in a gallery for everyone to know who you are an artist. Now, you’re more discoverable because everyone has access to social media. You no longer have to put on the hard work and the humiliation of sending your work, or having to meet up with galleries and say: ‘please put my art in your gallery.’ Now you can do it yourself and you know; you can curate yourself. You can curate who sees you. You get the chance to have that exposure.

You mentioned before that it’s important that you do not break the rules that you’ve set for yourself. Can you expound on that.

A lot of the time, when you’re doing art, you get tempted to do art for, you know, a different kind of pay. Kasi people will say: “do art for exposure, do art for gift certificates, or free food.”

But if you set a personal rule that ‘you will do art only for yourself or if you set the rule that you have to get paid, then you make sure that you get paid. You make sure that you stick to your rules. That is how businesses work. You have to treat your career as a business. Businesses work by not breaking their own rules.

What are some of your ground rules when dealing with people who commissioned you?

I don’t work for free; there has to be a monetary pay that’s equal to the work being done. And if it’s not money, it has to be as equal to the value of the money you’re supposed to get paid.

Another Rule I have is you don’t compromise yourself. If the client is adamant that you draw or something you don’t feel comfortable, just turn away from it.

You have to fight for your ideals, morals and your artistic integrity. As much as you want to honor the client, its not just all about what they want dapat. If it’s all client, then why get an artist to do the work?

Jappy Agoncillo starts off the art wars by creating his own mural to inspire the participants

There are so many artists out there. How do you stand out?

Actually, I don’t know that I stand out. My best guess is that  I have a style that is distinct. I’m not the best out there, but I think I’m good at marketing myself. I am good at putting myself out there, at social media, going to events. I get the right clients and take the right projects and I do work that represents me the most.

What do you think is the biggest mistake of an artist when dealing with these as a business?

I think the one mistake that artists make the most is that they don’t grow. Growth is important. Like in business: when you have a sari-sari store and you want to become a corporation, but you continue to look at yourself as a sari-sari store then you’re not going to be a corporation.

Same as an artist, If I’m stuck to just drawing on paper and never tried painting canvasses or stepping unto walls and buildings, I would have never levelled up my career. You have to keep growing, just work on learning more, growing more and moving up to what’s next. Whatever.

What do you think about using controversy in your art?

When your putting up your art, I think you should try to stay away from controversy. At the same time it also has to do with something about yourself, about who you are as a person. It still has to go with the integrity that you’re trying to set—if you have a message to put out there, if you’re against an issue, or if you’re for a certain person, candidate, a representative or something. Basta if you have something to say, you don’t ever sacrifice that artistc integrity. Don’t sacrifice what you believe in.

Jappy Agoncillo was recently part of Axe’s Project You, a series of master classes and contests for men to work on their passions. For Agoncillo’s segment, Art Wars, the artist introduced participants to the street art landscape. Henrick Dulin was declared as winner, and he will work with Agoncillo on a big art project in Escolta.

For more information on Project You, follow Axe Philippines on Facebook.  

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