Life

This Filipino Grandpa Who Sells His Art in the Streets Is Getting His Own Exhibit

He started painting with two old paint cans and plywood he found in the trash.
May 27, 2021, 10:02am
Manila street art with tatay edgardo
Edgardo Lam and his pieces in the streets of Manila. PHOTO: Courtesy of Panya Boonsirithum

Before he started painting 12 years ago, 67-year-old Edgardo Lam’s main source of income was tips from drivers whom he helped fit into tight parking spots – a common need in Manila’s crowded streets. People who happen to live near these informal parking spots usually help drivers find a spot, direct them, and guard their cars from petty thieves while they’re away. In exchange, they get small tips ranging from PHP20 ($0.42) to PHP50 ($1).

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Lam still does this today, but has started selling his artworks on the side. Now people know him as “Tatay Edgardo,” the artist at the corner of Manila’s Padre Faura and M.H. Del Pilar streets, where he showcases his pieces every day. Tatay means father in Filipino, and is a respectful way to refer to older men.

Lam lives and sells his art in the side streets of Ermita, Manila. His work is graphic and colorful, depicting human faces, plants, animals, and pop culture symbols, in bold and surreal stylings. He has an upcoming solo exhibit but before that, he’s of course going to help direct drivers park their cars along the city’s narrow streets.

Lam went viral earlier this month after a tweet from a local apparel brand, but his popularity started to develop in 2019. He still remembers his first customer from around a decade ago.

“I was painting a baywalk scenery then, with the sea, clouds, boats, and mountains, and a foreigner passed by and asked me if it was for sale. I said yes, if they wanted to buy it,” Lam told VICE. “They asked me how much it was and I said it was up to them.”  

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The buyer gave him PHP1,000 ($21) and some priceless advice.

“They told me to keep painting, and that I better have more pieces ready when they pass by next, because they will buy them all,” Lam recalled. 

And the buyer did buy them all. Lam estimates that he sold over 200 pieces to that first customer over a few years. He doesn’t see them around anymore, but has since gained more fans. Today, he sells his pieces for around PHP100 ($2) to PHP500 ($10).  

Lam started painting with just two colors at a time, because that was all he was able to scavenge. Today, as he’s able to purchase new supplies himself, he paints with much more. It’s these colors that his patrons love about his work.

Manila street art with tatay edgardo

Collage: VICE / Images: Courtesy of Alex Fevidal

“I like how the paintings are so quirky and vibrant,” said Alex Fevidal, who has purchased two pieces from Lam. “The paintings are colorful and all the different colors really go well with each other.” 

Another customer, Panya Boonsirithum, bought a piece as a Mother’s Day gift and immediately knew that he wanted to “share Tatay Edgardo’s story, and give inspiration to people.” Boonsirithum is the one organizing Lam’s upcoming solo exhibit. 

Lam uses the money he earns from selling his paintings to buy new paints and brushes at a local bookstore. But he said he doesn’t plan to give up his parking gig. 

Manila street art with tatay edgardo

Photo: Courtesy of Panya Boonsirithum

“I still help people park, just to be sure. We don’t know what might happen, all this might just stop, and I still need to live,” he said. “I don’t say I’m good. I’m not an artist. But many people like my work, so I’m thankful for that.”

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