Mr. OGAY is one of Taiwan’s most prolific and well-respected street artists, with a career spanning almost two decades. Known for his iconic “naked man” characters, Mr. OGAY’s works can be seen around the streets of Taiwan, and have been featured in China, Japan, South Korea, France, America, and Thailand. His seemingly simple pieces use “ugliness” as a motif to provoke reflections on beauty, humanity, environment, and society. Neocha had the chance to speak with the artist to understand more about his philosophy and insistence that “art can change the world.”
Neocha: How did the idea for the Mr. OGAY characters first come about?
Mr. OGAY: During my youth, when I was first figuring out my style, I found that I really liked to draw people. Afterwards, I decided that that would be my main focus. I added my own personality into my work, and what resulted are the characters that you see today.
Neocha: How does your fine arts background influence your work on the street?
Mr. OGAY: My life-long fine arts education taught me about aesthetics and how to draw things beautifully. But in comparison to this “beautiful” approach, I prefer to draw things that are ugly. Ugly things will give viewers a deeper impression, but I’ll use beautiful technique to depict this concept of “ugliness.” This causes the viewer to rethink their own definition of beauty and ugliness, to more deeply consider the themes that I want to express.
Neocha: How does mainstream Taiwanese society view street art?
Mr. OGAY: Taiwanese society is not really accepting of street artists. Because they lack a deep understanding of art, so they can’t understand what we’re trying to express. They’ll think that we’re just trying to vandalize or damage property, so our street pieces will usually only be viewable for a short time before they’re painted over. We need to spend a lot of time to explain and educate people about what we’re really doing.
Neocha: What kinds of problems do you encounter while working on the street? What is the Taiwanese government’s attitude towards street artists?
Mr. OGAY: Taiwan’s laws against graffiti aren’t strict, which has allowed many young people to be able to paint in public without facing consequences. But most of these artists lack substance, so the number of quality pieces you’ll see on the street are actually very few. Government attitudes towards street art will differ in different parts of Taiwan. In some places, the government will try to use street art as an urban beautification project, but many times the artists who collaborate on these projects will have creative limitations placed on them by conservative forces. So most of the time, it works out better if we are self sufficient.
Neocha: How do you define your purpose as an artist? How do you hope people will react to your work?
Mr. OGAY: To me, the essence of street art is to be able to communicate directly to the public, as opposed to having to go through different stages of review or censorship. In the end, all mediums of art are about the people, so the concepts and philosophies you want to transmit are the most essential. Like I said already, I hope that when people see my works, they’ll be moved to consider what constitutes ugliness and beauty. That through humor and creativity, these works will make people laugh, they’ll cultivate people’s ability to think critically and care more for their surrounding environment and the world at large. Remember: art can change the world.