Introducing the Most Popular, Most Widely Viewed Artist You'll Never Know
If you were in shopping in Greenbelt on December 5 last year, or dining out at Burgos Circle a week later, you may have seen a hundred-peso bill on the ground, or thousands of pesos spilling out of an ATM. And if you picked moved to pick up the money—who wouldn't?—it would have taken a beat or two before you realized that the figures on the bills were covering their eyes in despair, and the money was asking you that most existential of all one-word questions: Why?
"Until this day, the 'Why' remains unanswered," the artist says cryptically—though, to be fair, he may have been returning to an earlier question about his motivations for his street art.
"Oh, the money piece," he continues. "When people see the money, they realize it's not money, so they feel stupid for picking it up. That experience of having hope and then realizing that it isn't real is what I want to put out...false hope."
Welcome to the work of the artist known variously as OldHaus, or @oldhaus on Instagram, or simply "the Why guy", whose canvas is the streets of Metro Manila. His art is free to view, if inescapable. Perhaps best known for the spate of mysterious Why? logos stenciled on walls and utility poles that first popped up in Taguig, and then in other parts of the metro, he's been busy lately. He's also doing sticker art, with boldly colored pieces that include strongly worded slogans against, ehm, children:
"I don't think Ill stop until I'm happy. I get inspired from negative stuff, desperation and frustration...rejection, false hope, living in a third world...pollution, overpopulation, corruption...everything is fucking ugly...so I try to make it nicer," he says.
His attention to detail is actually quite surprising, and easily missed in the few seconds it takes to walk or drive by his work. "I'm working at making my work last—like when I use stickers, I don't just print them out in a computer; I handcut each color of every shape so it won't fade outdoors. I also use reflective materials so they can be seen at night."
One of his more recent, more visible works is also more personal than most. A stickered banner on EDSA reads: Your son is a bully.
"I put a caption with that in my FB page. I was bullied in grade school just because I was too quiet. When I got older, I thought, do the parents of bullies know their sons are bullies? I think parents just don't know." As with the rest of his work, this one asks viewers to stop and question—their lives, politics, certain realities.
It's what art is supposed to do, though he knows that his chosen medium does skirt the boundaries of the law.He's been caught at least a couple of times before—once, he was asked to erase his work. He used to go out at night, but he's also learned that hiding in plain sight can be more effective. "It's a lot easier to do it in the middle of the day...when everyone is having lunch," he laughs.
Of course, there are limits to what he can get away with. "I don't do large-scale stuff," he says, though he wants to, "because it's easier to get caught...but I do have some ideas."
For someone who wishes to remain anonymous—and who has described himself as an unusually quiet child—he now has a lot to say. "It's an outlet for me...from work and life in general. I guess im also busy at work so I have more stress," he says, acknowledging the increased activity of late. "I'm finding it more and more therapeutic as time goes by. I have so much I'd like to say and talk about but I'm not the most sociable person, so I use the streets for people to listen."