The street art of muralist Juan Paolo Tolentino

'I wanted to paint her because I feel kids don't know who she is. '

‘I wanted to paint her because I feel kids don’t know who she is. ‘

By Wendell Gaa

Street art isn’t all about graffiti. Just ask Juan Paolo Tolentino, better known as “Jolo.”

Tolentino’s art consists of life-size portraits of celebrities whose faces have adorned buildings and public walls across New York.

Mural paintings of Manny Pacquiao and Bruce Lee are on display at the Southeast Asia Market Warehouse in Brooklyn. Tolentino’s Princess Diana piece hangs at the Motorgate Gallery at Roosevelt Island. A mural of Frank Sinatra remains on view at BKLYN House Hotel. His personal favorite is the painting of the music band Blondie for the Underhill Walls in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

“The theme for that season of artists is ‘Album Cover.’ I painted Blondie’s Parallel Lines because it’s one of my favorite albums of all time,” he shared in an interview with The FilAm.

Tolentino, 27, lived the life of a diplomat’s kid. Born in Manila, he moved to London at the age of 11 and there spent his adolescent years. His father, Jake Tolentino, is a diplomatic staff who is now based in the Department of Foreign Affairs home office in Manila. He said his London upbringing had a hugely positive impact on his life. To this day, he is not only proficient in Tagalog but also speaks with a distinct British accent. He works as a professional office manager in Midtown; art is his “side hustle.”

He began painting in 2017 and was mentored by New York artist Art Zamora. Other Filipino artists in the Tri-State art scene urged him to lift a paint brush and start creating. He translated his interest in painting into an intense passion and began spray painting walls and creating murals.

“Living and growing up in the U.K. is something I’ll always treasure,” he reminisced. “I still keep in touch with my friends and every now and then some of them visit me here in New York. It really helped shape me into who I am today.”

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra

Tolentino earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration from Far Eastern University in Manila. After completing his college studies, he joined his father in his assignment in New York. He worked briefly at the consulate in New York assisting in the registration of overseas absentee voters during the 2016 Philippine presidential elections. It was during this period that I had the pleasure to become acquainted with him. We became close friends – almost like brothers — bonding over mutual areas of interests from arts to cinema.

A Queens resident, Tolentino is working on more mural projects, one commissioned by a smoothie shop in Harlem. Art has become more than just a hobby.

“I just got sick and tired of going out every night drinking and waking up with a hangover,” he said.

He is also preparing for an upcoming group show with fellow FilAm artists who jovially call themselves FOBBS or “Fresh off the Boat Boys (and girls).”

The incognito street artist and poet Banksy is one of Jolo’s inspirations. “I like his work because of the messages and wit of the pieces he makes. He is a true street artist, but not a graffiti artist,” he said.

His “idol,” however, remains Shepard Fairey, who created the classic HOPE portrait of Barack Obama. “His political messages and style is something I’m trying to do.”

He also looks to works by artists Yayoi Kusama, Roy Lichtenstein, Hilma af Klint, Van Gogh and Mondrian as references.

He conceded to still learning different techniques and trying to identify his own style, and expressed how the hard work that goes into his art has paid off.

“I’m not the most creative nor the most talented artist out there, but I put in the hours to improve on my craft. That’s how I get my gigs,” he said.

Does he consider himself an artist? He’d rather be called a “creative.”

© The FilAm 2019

Manny Pacquiao

Manny Pacquiao

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