Live Art, Love Manila

I wish I could just conduct interviews for a living. I love talking to people, especially when they’re as interesting and inspiring as international artist Dee Jae Paeste. Even though he’s painted for people like Snoop Dog and Armani Exchange, he’s fallen in love with Manila.

I enjoy bridging the local and international world by creating stories and articles that will help Filipinos become more self-aware about the talent here and what we can do to make it progress further. What does the Manila art scene have that New York doesn’t? Filipinos don’t usually think that way now do we? The comparison is usually the other way around.

The best interviews feel like conversations, which is what this one was felt like. Read on!

To each his own, the old adage says, but it’s a rarity to find an anomaly that successfully connects our idiosyncrasies and celebrates them in art or in conversation.

With his trademark crazy braids and unusual wooden bow tie, international artist and fashion designer Dee Jae Paeste is a cultural trifecta, part Polynesian, Irish and Filipino.

He has collaborated with Armani Exchange and contributed artwork to celebrities like Snoop Dogg and Brandon Boyd.

As he travels along he’s just adding to his life story, he says. But Dee Jae’s roots grow from Manila, which is why he’s here.

The preface begins with imagi:NATIVES, his live art event in Kyss Lounge, which hopes to create a space for everyone, whether local or international to make love – not only with art, music, and culture but with the growing Philippine art scene.

In this interview, he tells ManilaLive a tale of how growing up worlds apart eventually brought him home and why, in just a few months, Dee Jae fell in love.

You went to different schools and were exposed to different races and cultures while growing up. How did you feel when there were people who looked different from you?

I felt like I stood out. And the one thing about standing out is that I adapted. Being an artist, having a talent is one thing I brought to the table. Being the new kid in school means that people always want to judge you. They want to wonder about you, try to figure you out, but if you can draw, they’re like wow ‘you can draw batman, ninja turtles, you can draw myself. That’s so cool.’ That was easy end. I’m also very social. So it actually turned me into the person I am today. I can adapt, go around the world and talk to different people. That’s why I like gathering people. It’s natural for me to get people to do an event, to gather people, have fun and be creative.

How can you say you can stand out and adapt. Isn’t that a paradox?

If I didn’t care about the way I look (chuckle), I wouldn’t look like I do. Crazy hair, tattoos –I use it to my advantage. People kind of focus on you, and are drawn to you.  You should make it a good thing because people want to find out more about you. If you have something to share and you’re standing out then it’s a better platform into meeting people.

So, what can you share?

I like to share food, stories, travels, art. I’m all about the experience, the journey. I think with travelling you get all of that out of you. It shows how you can interact. If you can’t speak the same language you have to find some commonality. I think art is very universal. Even if I don’t speak the same language I can show you something I painted and you can connect to it somehow.

It’s funny because people normally think of art as the product, but as an artist you’re saying that art is all about the journey?

I think for me that’s why I paint murals. Because you can’t just pick up murals and bring it around. It’s not for sale. It’s just a wall in a city in a dark corner or in a big crowded area. Depending on where I paint it, I’d rather leave something behind than just in someone house. It’s public for everyone to see. It’s free and you can share it. If I’m not there at least my art can resonate when I’m gone.

With regard to your sense of style, it’s quite unique. Kind of Avatar-esque. How would you feel if people react that it’s kind of weird?

I get that all the time. I think the uniqueness plays a good role in my life. Whether they like it or not people are still looking at me, still double taking at me. Some people can dismiss it really easily, but most people are like ‘woah is that your real hair or is that real tattoos or what are you wearing, where’s that from.’ It ignites a little curiosity in people. I like that. I’m all about the interaction.

What gets you up in the morning? What do you wake up to?

Breakfast. (laughs) I get up to music, and finding out what’s on the horizon for the day. I kind of don’t have plans most of the time. I would do some breathing exercises, yoga, and start my day and hopefully I create something and hopefully change something for the better, or I create a new path. It’s a day by day thing. That’s kind of how my life is. I was travelling when I was 17 and I met a guy who had words of wisdom to share. His ideal was that life isn’t about finding yourself. It’s about creating yourself. I kind of took that as a revelation about how to live my life. I don’t ever want to find answers but create new experiences.

What is it about Filipino culture that you love so much?

I think it’s the people. There’s a lot of history, but at the root of it is the people, the hospitality, the love and support. There’s also a sense of community. If you’re Filipino you’re like ‘eh, did you eat yet, are you okay, where’s your family from?’ People are always trying o find the connection. I like that about Filipino culture. You’re only a few people away from someone’s auntie or uncle. Even if it’s a half of me I feel like it’s a big part of me.

Most Filipinos would jump at the chance to work and live abroad. But even with all your experience and exposure abroad, you choose to move here. Why?

I’ve been to a lot of places. I lived in Japan for four and a half years where I did fashion design and art there. I travelled to Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore. I’m like a big cultural data collector. I want to go taste food, see the arts, take it in and let it out on canvas.

So, what do you think of the art scene here?

The art scene is amazing here. There’s so much talent here. The ultimate reason why I’m here is because Vinyl on Vinyl saw me painting at B-side. They asked me to come out and do the show. I had a whole trip planned to go to Tokyo, Australia, Singapore. I came here and it was so amazing and I got so many connections and love and good energy that I never left. I have Vinyl on Vinyl for that. They gave me a space to explore. That was it. I fell in love with manila.

What does the manila art scene have that New York doesn’t have? What’s our edge?

I love New York but I feel like I’m just a part of the big rat race. There are so many people trying to get the same thing without working hard. But here people just want to create. There’s an art scene and it’s growing.  The art and music scene are in a great stage because people are coming together and trying to build. I think instead of being part of something here I can help shape it. That’s what imagi:NATIVES (Dee Jae’s event in Kyss) is all about. Gathering people. It’s not what you can get in the mainstream club. It’s for people who want to see what’s out of that and see what everyone from other parts of the world are doing. It’s about creating a cultural hub for artists to create. My favorite artists are usually my peers and friends around me. So it’s more tangible that way. You can create, build, connect and grow. Love more

Do you think the art scene is underappreciated here? How come people don’t seem to know about it?

I think it’s coming along. There are places like Vinyl on Vinly and Secret Fresh. There are other organizations doing all kinds of art. There are all these different places where people gather but you still have to look for it. It’s still underground. imagi:NATIVES is bridging it. That’s why it’s good to share spaces with people we wouldn’t usually share spaces with. There’s so much talent here. People just need a push or a place to share.

Can underground ever meet the main stream?

Yeah! As long as the soul and the good intentions are still there. The wholeness and the roots are still there then yeah. Definitely artists need to eat. We’re people who pay rent. We’re people who need to live. So I think there are certain ways that you can keep it. Underground again, is a word that’s very weird. It’s another label. I just say it because it’s understandable to people who aren’t aware of it. There’s always a way to keep connected and share it with people who want to see i

What other problems have you experienced while trying to create a space for art here in manila?

I really haven’t had any problems yet. For the most part people have been willing. I think me being an outsider, like an international artists, it helps. Like painting in places like Time and Opus and then turning around to paint in places like Bside and Cubao X, which are more underground. To me you have to bridge it together. Not everyone can do it because people have certain mentalities about what art is which is why you have to open doors and minds. And when you can show them the connection between what they think is art and what we think is art then you create something.

What’s the difference between how a foreigner sees the art scene here and how a Filipino does?

There’s no difference. Like my friend Anna from Bside said, some people can’t worry about what they’re wearing for fashion or art because they’re worrying about what to eat or where to live. So as great as it sounds I didn’t come to Manila because I wanted to make money and become famous. I came to manila because I wanted to learn about my culture and dig deep and find out about the city.

The Philippines is a third world country so people don’t have the means or luxury to pursue art. Even you mentioned that artists have to eat. So, what are your thoughts on selling out?

Put a price on yourself and when you meet that price don’t go over it. Definitely set a limit. Don’t put your art everywhere. For me, personally, I know who needs arts and wants art. Not everything is for sale. There are people who had a lot of money and wanted art of mine and I didn’t feel that we connected with. Its like giving one of my kids.i want to give it a good home. There are people who want to take from you and people who want to support you. There’s a difference. Working with corporate companies is definitely a hit and miss.

Despite living in an area near Silicon Valley, where corporations like Yahoo and Microsoft were, you said that art was still flourishing. So, do you think it’s possible for both corporate culture and art to live side by side?

Yeah, totally! That’s my whole concept of art and the duality of what I do. Nature and technology coexisting. Beauty meets the chaos. Its all about keeping everything in order. Is nature trying to take over or is technology trying to destroy everything.  Everything comes with a good and bad.

What do you think of the quote, ‘To be international you have to be local?’

I think that’s a good quote because I always consider myself a local foreigner. I’m not from here but I always find out things. I think being international means knowing where you came from, your roots. Know your history, know yourself. If there’s no history, there is no self. In a sense you have to know where you came from in order to know where you’re going. Another quote I really like… Tourists never really know where they’ve been and travelers never know where they’re going.

What advice would you give to Filipinos who are one, struggling for their art and two, to help them see what you see and love about the art scene in Manila?                   

It’s all about coming together and connecting. Go to the art meet ups. Go to sketch sessions. Expand your community. Expand your circle. Share more. Support more. Don’t have a crab mentality. Go out more, paint more, grow your hair long. Let yourself go. It’s about experiencing it all and taking it for what it is. If you take yourself seriously then it’s difficult to go into the art world. It’s not for the weak hearted.


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