behind the brush with Jappy Agoncillo

Welcome to Behind the Brush, where we offer a peek behind the curtain through the voice of talented artists within our community. This week, we’re chatting with Jappy Agoncillo, a Filipino multi-disciplinary artist who’s helped us transform iconic spaces, like our recent Hudson Yards activation for the New York Rangers kickoff to hockey week. 

Batman, Superman, Thor… your artwork has led to you painting some of the most iconic superheroes of our time with the biggest of brands, like Warner Brothers. When painting these fictional characters, what type of role do the unique fanbases play throughout your creative process and overall development of the piece? 

As a fan myself, I try to treat the big IP projects with as much care and respect as possible, viewing it through the eyes of someone who loves these stories. When creating projects for such characters, its important to me to do my diligent research, know the needs of the character, the project, and how to best contextualize the “story” we’re trying to capture. With all that said, I also try to push the boundaries a little bit too, and subvert a bit of the expectations from the character, in order to set my artwork apart from others done before. 

A lot of your artwork features so many intricate details, it feels like you could stare at it or hours and still discover new hidden gems and Easter eggs. What inspired you to carry this consistent style across so many different mediums and types of artwork? 

I think it just stems from my own joy of finding hidden details and meanings within things I consume. It’s a big deal in video game culture or movies, where they add in small little callbacks to other stories or sometimes obscure references only some in the audience would get. Kind of an “if you know, you know” situation. One of my favorite examples of this type of thing is like in Forrest Gump, where they nonchalantly drop Forrest into historical moments. When you watch the movie he’s just talking to John Lennon but if you know the song, he just gave him the inspiration for the song Imagine. Similarly it’s that sense of “OH! I get it” that I like to bring out through the background details in my work. 

How important do you think having an identifiable, personable brand is to an artist? Is it something you often think about or work towards evolving? 

I go half and half on this. On the one hand, having a distinct brand can be beneficial, as it allows your work to be more identifiable, to become a signature. It can allow artists to play within their brand, and gives them helpful parameters to creating work. But it can also be detrimental, in a sense that you’re limited in your exploration, that your work is now this brand and has to stay that way to retain the interest. I personally deal with this a lot, and try to strike a balance between creating something that I feel is distinct to myself, while also experimenting and fighting to improve. Sometimes I get frustrated that my work is going stale and I go “off-brand” completely for a few weeks, only to find that that period of trying new things then added to what I already did. I do struggle with it from time to time, which I believe is a good sign that you’re always looking to evolve. 

New York City can be a daunting place to some; what’s helped you transition to this city all the way from the Philippines? What’s been your take on their expansive art scene? 

It definitely is daunting, and trying to make your way in a new city, let alone a new country can be pretty crazy. I try to focus on what it is I’m after – my dreams or my ambitions or what have you, as cheesy at it sounds, and helps a great deal in pacifying a lot of the anxieties. I tell myself that I have these goals I want to pursue, and it brings me a lot of clarity; that I’m here for something important to me. The art scene has been extremely welcoming and its also great help to find community. With a scene this big, and with artists from all walks, its easy to find your people if you know where to look. 

How have you carried your Filipino roots and culture in your creative and overall life? How integral have the environments you’ve grown up in been to your creative journey?

While being Filipino doesn’t come across in my work for the most part, I do proudly represent where I’m from. I think the influence my culture has had on me is much deeper and can account for the kind of work I like to create. I do believe that where you’re from has an effect on how you see the world and how you approach it. For example I grew up watching a lot of TV – creating in me a love for pop culture, which spurned me on to want to draw the characters I knew. I started skateboarding at age 10 after seeing Extremely Goofy Movie and playing the Tony Hawk Games, which then made me interested in Skateboard Graphics and Punk Music. The combination led to graffiti which led to street art. 

Our team was proud to have you as a ‘23 Titan. How did you enjoy painting in Chicago — were there any takeaways you left with or things you weren’t expecting to discover in the Windy City? 

I loved my time in Chicago, I’m honestly already raring to come back! Painting there has been a real highlight of my career, and I’m very proud of the work I did in my short time. As it was my first time in the city when I went for Titan Walls, I didn’t know what to expect outside of what I would see in TV or movies. I love learning about new cities I visit, especially the not-so-touristy things – even willingly having not one but two shots of Malort during my stay. I left with a lot of love and respect for Chicago (and a lingering itch to move there to be honest). 

The range of your clients is quite diverse, from professional sports teams to global technology companies. How do you balance working with different teams who all abide by different brand guidelines? 

When working with brands, I try to be as flexible as possible without giving up my artistic values. I come in with an understanding that yes this is a good opportunity to create something for a brand, but also that these brands have certain goals they want to accomplish by partnering with you. So I like to listen to the brand, ask a lot of questions, and try to get as much context for the project as I can. This way it makes it easier for me to apply my work and style to the project’s goals, while still bringing out something unique and distinct to me. I also try to remind myself that the brand approached you for a reason, and that’s your perspective and approach to the projects. 

What was your biggest takeaway from this past year?

When I first moved here, I met up with some friends in a similar freelance work situation. I’m a bit of a naturally shy-type dude, and when I told them there’s so much I wanted to do they said to me, in Filipino, “Kung Mahihiya, umuwi ka nalang” which translates to, “If you’re gonna be shy, you should just go home”. Which helped guide a lot of the decisions I made moving forward. If there’s something I wanted to do or paint or anything – I simply just asked. Can I paint this wall? Can I be part of the art roster? Can I do a gallery show here? 8/10 it worked out. All this to say is you can have the skills, you can have the drive, but if you don’t speak up, nothing might ever happen to you. 

What’s next for Jappy? Are there any new mediums, platforms or types of projects you’re hoping to secure for 2024? 

I’d like to paint in more cities! and maybe even more countries next year – do more festivals, gallery shows, work with exciting brands, meet and collab with different artists, and continue growing and expanding my work and career in the U.S. and globally. 

Tell the people where they can follow you and keep up with your journey! 

Follow me on instagram @jappyagoncillo! I’m always posting new work, updates, things from my day to day life, and the occasional meme or two.

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