As glamorous as his life might seem right now—exhibiting his artworks, displaying his skills in international art fairs—visual artist and designer Kris Abrigo rose from humble beginnings and is proud of every step that got him here.
When he was seven years old, unlike most children who would beg their parents for toys, Abrigo made his own toy sculptures. At his family’s modest abode in Sorsogon City, the young artist would gather torn rubber slippers, form them some shape and stick them together with contact cement or what is locally known as “rugby.”
And like most artists, Abrigo found other outlets where he could satiate his artistic calling.
“My lola is a public school teacher and because they had limited supplies in school, I drew her visual aids for her students. When I was in high school I did paintings for our cathedral as well—I would paint on these big pieces of textile so they could hang it on our altar,” Abrigo told The Sunday Times Magazine.
It was during this time that that he fully realized his immense passion for the arts. He added, “In school, I got more excited pag yung lesson may drawing na involved tapos I would continue at home. Pag pangit ang drawing ng teacher ko, I would try to improve it at home. Looking back, I feel that by doing these things, I started getting really interested to arts.”
Lucky for Abrigo, he was able to nurture his interest and let it progress via studies.
He took up Bachelor of Fine Arts major in Visual Communications at the prestigious University of the Philippines and graduated in 2012. Throughout his six years in college, Abrigo absorbed everything he could like a sponge and from there was able to establish his own style.
“In college, I was introduced to academic and classic art—sa art history mismo. I was also introduced to lowbrow culture from reading Juxtapoz Magazine. Mula doon medyo nag-expand yung vision atsaka idea ko about art—kumuha ako ng iba’t ibang elements tapos pinaghalo-halo ko to form my style.”
But for the young artist, developing his own style never meant abandoning his early memories of creating art.
“Na-establish yung visual style ko nung nasa college ako pero yung style ko ngayon, lagi namang may basis siya sa roots ko nung bata pa.”
His penchant for creating sculptures from used rubber slippers turned out to be good training for him to make quality urban art toys—the most in demand toys among collectors nowadays—while his frequent submission of colorful pieces for every poster making contest he could join in high school reflected his current penchant using bright colors.
“Currently, my style is called ‘suprematism’ where the focus is on basic shapes and geometry and then the colors and the layout I use on my paintings. The formation of images are based on pop surrealism movement where we get pop elements from contemporary culture and media. I combine these elements into a layout or an image.”
Abrigo clarified, however, that as an artist he is conscious in continuously evolving and and welcoming ideas that come his way.
Sharing his thought process, Abrigo detailed, “Parang subconsciously laging naghahanap ng idea yung utak ko at yung mata ko and then I use what I know and what I have learned as my filters. So importante din yung sobrang maraming research.”
Interestingly, one of Abrigo’s ways of “research” is to listen to language-laden recordings, and not melodies or lyrics, whenever he paints.
“Usually when I paint, instead of music, yung pinapakinggan ko mga talks about artists para mas ma-elevate yung knowledge ko. I always have a thirst for knowledge para din laging may progress yung mga gawa ko. Kaya rin siguro sobrang diverse nung medium ko at sobrang nae-evolve yung style ko.”
From portraits to murals
From creating toys to painting portraits, Abrigo found himself exhibiting his works in top contemporary museums in Manila, at the Secret Fresh Gallery and Vinyl on Vinyl Gallery beginning 2013 and to participating at the Affordable Art Fair Singapore, one of the leading global showcases for affordable art.
Today, he is considered a thriving mural artist, and tells The Sunday Times Magazine that this “massive” kind of art turned out to be his favorite medium thus far in his career.
“Favorite ko yung mural siguro kasi mas malaki yung audience niya tapos mas marami siyang nare-reach. I do commercial murals and I noticed na yung mga customers nung establishment, they experience the mural personally,” Abrigo justified.
Further noting the beauty of murals, Abrigo added, “Kasi pag paintings usually they are private, and yung nakaka-experience ‘nun usually collectors unless they are included in an exhibit. Pero itong murals na ito lagi silang may interaction sa iba’t ibang audiences.”
He got so engrossed in murals and the concept of street art that when Bonifacio Art Foundation Inc. and the Los Angeles-based art consultancy LeBasse Projects launched “Art BGC Next Act ONE Festival” in 2015—the pioneer street art/mural festival in the country—he volunteered to be part of it.
“During that time sobrang na-addict ako sa street art at sa concept ng street art, kaya sumali ako sa BGC Fest. Gusto kong makipag-connect sa kanila, sa like-minded artists at tumulong talaga sa street art culture. I’m also fan of those artists, so kinilala ko sila ng maayos.”
Abrigo was one of the most active volunteers in helping to paint three of the humungous murals in BGC, the largest of which covers the entire left sidewall of One Global Place.
In the end, his dedication and the huge help he became to the foreign participating artists, AKA Corleone, Faile, and Cyrcle, did not go unnoticed to organizers. Abrigo was later offered to be one of the main acts in this year’s edition.
Street art and Art BGC Mural Festival
At the age of 26, Abrigo is one of the youngest artists to grace the Art BGC Mural Festival 2016, which has gathered in the country some of the world’s biggest street artists. Among them are Andrew Schoultz, HOTxTEA, Franco Diaz and Bunnie Reiss, as well as Filipinos Trip63 and KFK.
Asked how he feels to be part of the main act this year, Abrigo told The Sunday Times Magazine that it is a mix of pressure, excitement, and happiness.
“Sobrang pressure kasi sobrang laki ng wall. Gumawa na rin ako dati ng malalaking walls but not as massive as this,” he said, pertaining to his wall that measures 80-feet by 60-feet, or equivalent to eight building floors.
But he assured he is confident that with the organization’s support and the time granted him, he will be able to finish his piece.
“I’m excited for the experience and to represent the Philippines in world stage. I’m also happy to contribute to the culture that I really love. In contemporary times, street art is the biggest movement and feeling ko, sa pagsulat ulit ng history 50 years from now ay mare-recognize talaga ang movement na ito,” Abrigo added.
Ode to laborers
For the festival, Abrigo shared that he will be doing a piece titled “The Laborers,” his ode to the unsung heroes—the construction workers—of a developing city like BGC, where construction abounds left and right.
“Last year, nag-assist ako sa mga international artists and napansin ko na majority ng audience na talagang tumitigil at tumatamabay sa mga mural ay yung mga construction workers, yung mga laborers na 24-hours nagtatrabaho,” the artist said.
Getting the design idea from the construction site staple that is the safety signage, the artist further shared that he will complete his three monumental human structures using spray paint and latex paint.
“I want to elevate these marginalized workers, the same people na hindi mo mapapansin masyado pero sa totoo lang, sila talaga yung foundation ng city because they are literally building the city,” the artist further elaborated.
But aside from paying homage to the construction workers, Abrigo hopes that his piece will help all BGC workers to identify themselves in the city that might be foreign to them.
“Maraming workers ang araw-araw nasa BGC. Gusto kong magkaroon sila ng sense of identity through that mural, magkaroon ng sense of ownership at ma-identify nila yung sarili nila sa mural dahil kasama nila ito sa work, at sa community nila,” he explained.
But the wisdom that comes from the young yet adept mind of Abrigo did not end there.
Street art according to a street artist
Getting more philosophical, he told The Sunday Times Magazine what he believes is the importance of his passion in street art.
“First, for me, street art enhances the place. Kasi nag-start ang street art sa mga dilapidated places like ruins and industrial places. So, I think, street art first and foremost, is used to enhance and beautify the place.
“Second, street art improves the experience of the people in that area—magkakaroon sila ng identity at mas concrete na connection with their environment, like what I hope to achieve with my upcoming Art BGC Festival piece.
“Lastly, street art can be an avenue to express or send a message to the public, to a much larger-scale audience. Ang street art, kayang mai-pakilalala and mai-expose, ang art na hindi pa kilala at hindi pa pamilyar sa mga tao and, in return, makapag-solicit ng reaction sa tao,” Abrigo continued.
Reaction to street art—or any form of art, for that matter—for Abrigo is just as important.
“People react to art, kahit ano pa yan—gusto man nila o hindi—importante yung reaction nila kasi may thinking na nangyayari at may development na nangyayri sa pagkatao ng isang tao when he experiences art,” the artist added.
Finally, Abrigo shared with The Sunday Times Magazine that whenever he finishes his pieces, he hopes to give the audience visual entertainment—with his colorful palette and geometric shapes—and to stop, think, and understand the work deeper.
With a young and passionate artist like Kris Abrigo, building an art-filled city, with meaningful and accessible art like BGC, is no longer far from impossible in the Philippines.