You may have seen the art of Dee Jae Pa’este, 36, without knowing it’s his.

One of his most recognizable works is Mother Nature: Four Seasons, located at the parking lot on the corner of 28th street and 5th Avenue in Bonifacio Global City. Another is the mural on the Eton Centris wall along EDSA. Many of his other pieces can be found in neighborhood restaurants and malls.

“Street art is always and has been a platform, and it’s a way to connect with people, the city, and with others outside of your own self,” Pa’este shares. “Putting art on the street allows you to interact with something beautiful, uplifting, and cultural, and something that has a message. Or it is just beautiful to look at and can change the way you feel for a day.”

“Public art is important and a lot of people don’t realize it,” he adds. It democratizes what some would call an intimidating field. “Even if you can’t go to a museum or you don’t have access to art galleries, then you can still see art around the city.”

Artistic roots

Pa’este grew up in a nurturing household, where he was surrounded by artists.

Pa’este traces his passion for the arts to his childhood in California. His Polynesian mother, Debbie Sablan, designs furniture and manages antiques shops while his Filipino father, Danny Pa’este, is a visual artist. Many of his cousins are tattoo and graffiti artists.

“In Filipino or Asian households, art isn’t usually pursued or hoped for as a profession. Because I was surrounded by so many creatives and artists, my family pushed me to do nothing but art. It gave me a better platform to start my career at a young age. I’ve been painting since I was about 10 or 11 years old,” Pa’este reveals.

He grew up watching anime, reading manga, and playing with toys like Voltes V and Power Rangers. The artist married these influences with his Filipino and Polynesian cultures, leading to his Ancient Futuristic or Futuristic Indigenous aesthetic.

Pa’este’s upbringing in California’s Bay Area also sparked his interest in street art, since he was exposed to a lot of murals and graffiti. He still remembers one of the first Filipino murals he saw: a 15-storey piece that celebrated groundbreaking Fil-Ams.

His move to the Philippines began in 2011, when he was invited by Vinyl on Vinyl, an art gallery in Makati, to do a show. Pa’este’s two-week trip was eye-opening and his connection to the country has since grown.

Many hats

Pa’este’s works can be seen around Poblacion, a hip food and arts district in Makati.

Apart from art, Pa’este dabbles in event hosting, and does tours in the hip food and arts district of Poblacion.

His relationship to food is similar to art, one that began from his childhood. He was raised in a traditional Ilocano household and many of the men at home were cooks. According to Pa’este, “art is nourishment like the food that I need to eat in a day.”

Pa’este also has plans of “nourishing” the next generation through art. He has men-tored some friends and kids. He has worked with “Art for Kids,” an organization that collaborates with street children. The creative loves passing his knowledge, opening doors, and sharing his craft. When quarantine restrictions are lifted, he wants to do more workshops and community murals.

Adjusting to the pandemic

The artist is passionate about sharing his craft with the next generation.

Like with everyone else, the pandemic has severely affected Pa’este’s work. But that didn’t stop him. He and his wife, Filipino-Swedish model and cosplayer Gaby Storm, set up a new space called Phika Studios. Phika is derived from the Swedish word fika, which means “making time for friends or colleagues to share coffee or tea and a snack.”

The couple changed the “F” into “Ph” to reflect its Filipino roots. Pa’este is also working with his partners in the US for a line of high-quality makeup brushes called LaRuce Beauty PH. Lastly, DIYmoon Shop has a line of painting kits using his work.

In order to bounce back from the effects of the pandemic, Pa’este says you have to “find ways and create ways. You have to try something new.” He also advises aspiring artists to “not give up on something that makes you happy. If it is in your heart, you can make it happen.”

Pa’este speaks from experience, especially when you consider this story when he first arrived in Manila.

“I approached different companies and city planning groups when I first moved here about 10 years ago,” he says. “I wanted to put artwork on the walls on the freeway. I didn’t get any feedback or answer so I just brushed it off. Now, 10 years later, I have a giant mural.”

Urban spaces

Artists like Pa’este help create vibrant urban spaces that also become destinations for tourists and locals alike. The country’s capital may not have the beaches and natural attractions of provinces, but it is rich in cultural heritage that make it a must-see when visiting the Philippines.

The Department of Tourism is proud to promote destinations in Metro Manila that give everyone a better understanding of the country.

Institutions like the National Museum, the University of Santo Tomas, and Intramuros give a glimpse into the Philippines’ past. Rizal Park and Chinatown are bustling places with beautiful views and tasty treats. Modern attractions include the Mind Museum to better understand science, the 3D Art in Island Museum, and the shopping destination that is Uptown Bonifacio.

Make sure to stop by Metro Manila on your next visit and count how many of Pa’este’s works you can spot.