What comes into mind when you hear the name Leeroy New? Young folks surely think of his otherworldly installation projects and wearable art pieces that have made him famous the world over. On the other hand, there is no doubt that fashion lovers quickly remember Lady Gaga, who wore New’s muscle dress in her Marry the Night cover art. It’s easy to associate the visual artist with fashion, theatrics, and costuming, especially when his Instagram feed is filled with vibrant, outlandish pieces that look like they came straight out of the mind of a storytelling genius.
On the other hand, the general public might think of the young man’s collaborative efforts with Philippine urban planners in modifying public spaces. This is mostly what New does, and he admits that being able to actually contribute to structures is his own little way of proactively changing society in a cultural level. Just recently, he could be spotted painting sea creatures along the banks of the Pasig River, as part of a beautification project by the British Council and the MMDA.
Whatever it is you might think of when recalling Leeroy New, there is one thing for certain: his resume speaks for itself. Just in his mid-30s, the artist has proven to be one of the most provocative and innovative voices in the local (and perhaps global) art scene. He is shattering misconceptions on what can and should be perceived as art, by simply producing ballsy, unapologetic pieces that have something to say. Who knew that a shy boy from General Santos City would be making such a splash? Surely, Leeroy New did.
IMAGINATION OPENS DOORS
“I’m from a very conservative upbringing,” began Leeroy New, as he looked back on his childhood in General Santos City, Mindanao. “I was raised a shy boy, and we were never encouraged to talk or have an opinion because that was tantamount to being rude.” He found art as a way of expression, sharing that ever since he could remember, he was always scribbling on paper, and sometimes, even on the walls of their home. Growing up in a city far from bustling Manila, New explains that he had very limited resources to study art. Rather than art books or the internet (which was not a “thing” back then), he looked towards collecting cards, comic books, movies, and Philippine folklore (aswang stories as told by his family) for inspiration.
“Some kids in our school were playing Magic Cards, and I remember just watching them play and being so fixated on the images,” he remembers. “Each card depicted different scenes from sci-fi and fantasy. I eventually learned the card game just to look at the images. I memorized every picture, and who the illustrators were. Those were my art books because local libraries were very limited.” The interest in the strange and whimsical led to a love for horror films.
New explains how he was one of those kids who looked forward to actually seeing the monster revealed on the big screen. How did they imagine it this time? he would think to himself. While other children hid under the bedsheets, Leeroy New was anticipating seeing movie magic on-screen—even if the images were born from nightmares! He wasn’t scared. On the contrary, seeing these scary creatures only stimulated his young, artistic mind.
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