Woman of the Week: Kookoo Ramos
Meet the latest artist featured in Globe’s series The Kaleidoscope
When folks on their commute aren’t glued to their phones, another likely pastime is watching the world outside through car, jeepney and LRT windows. There’s not much to see, building after building. But keep your eyes peeled, you might just find works of art, nestled in the bustling streets and hiding in plain sight.
Welcome to the world of Kookoo Ramos, the artist known to disrupt rigid, gray cities with pops of color and inspiring street art.
So, Kookoo, what was it like growing up with an interest in the arts?
I remember growing up in Sta. Mesa, where I started out making use of the leftover crayons and old school notebooks of my ates [older sisters] for drawings. I also doodled a lot on the walls of our old house. When I got to the grade school level, that’s when I [really] noticed my growing interest in the arts. I looked forward to anything that involved art: school subjects, programs and electives.
Any fond memories from that point in time?
I remember joining my first photo essay contest in high school. At the time, I’d also send my illustrations to our school paper and join art programs. I’d work on t-shirt designs and posters for clubs. I’d say that was my significant contribution to my school during my HS years.
What were your college years like?
I began thinking about college courses when I was in my third year of high school. Was I going to be an interior designer? A psychologist? Will it be something in advertising? I realized that I just needed to connect the dots when it came to my interests and at the end I found that fine arts was going to be a good fit. I ended up in the College of Fine Arts of the University of Santo Tomas.
How did your college training help you get into street art?
As a freshman, I met a lot of artists from the older batches that dabbled in street art. They seemed really excited about it, so that got me curious. They’d scout for locations together, hang out together and paint together. One day I decided to tag along just to document the experience; I was a spectator. A couple of weeks or months after, I tried street art for myself with my blockmates. I ended up loving it. I thought: ang sarap pala nito gawin [it feels great doing this.] It’s difficult to explain the feeling, but for me, it was so fulfilling. I haven’t stopped creating street art since.
How did it feel creating street art for the first time?
It’s a completely different feeling, painting outside in public. It’s a completely different feeling being part of the environment itself—you’re one with the environment. It’s hot, it’s noisy, you’re with a group of painters and you have a really big canvas in front of you. Kahit ano pwede mong gawin [you can do anything.] Yun yung masarap na part [that’s the great part about it.]
Which side of you as an artist do you get to reveal in your street art? How different is it from working with a regular canvas?
I get to reveal my extroverted side in street art: That's my way of connecting with other people especially the public. There are times though when I paint by myself…for myself. I paint on a small canvas. In a way, that’s where my introverted side shows itself. The art is more personal. It’s more intimate.
What was life like after graduation?
I worked as a freelance artist eight months after graduating. I mean, I’ve been a visual artist ever since. It’s always been important for me to build relationships with other people and network with those whose styles I’m interested in: mainly murals, graffiti, street art. I realized along the way though that maybe I should try corporate life para magamit ko man lang yung course na kung saan ako grumaduate [so I could at least make use of the skills I learned in the course I graduated from.]
I worked as a graphic artist for a corporate company for three years. I did freelance work on the side—I couldn’t let go of that. I ended up feeling though the desk job was a dead-end street for me. I was no longer learning. I stopped growing. I was constantly searching for a challenge. So I left that job and pursued my freelance career full time. Iba yung fulfillment ng murals, ng graffiti, ng commissioned works na kini-create ko… [the sense of fulfillment from creating murals, graffiti, commissioned work is just something else…] to be able to produce artwork you visualize yourself and not because of the directives of—how am I going to call this—a boss.
Where did this change in direction take you?
Having to gamble between the fulfillment of a life as a full-time artist and the security presented by a day job. But proud ako na pinagdaanan ko yung decision-making na year na ‘yon. Ngayon, tuloy-tuloy na. [But I’m proud that I went through that crucial decision-making year. Now, there is no stopping.]
Watch the third episode of The Kaleidoscope featuring Kookoo Ramos below.