- Words and Photos by Kristy Calabro
FOBBS & Friends Making Waves at the S.E.A. Market
FOBBS, the “Fresh off the boat boys (and girls),” have slipped into Southeast Asia Market’s Brooklyn warehouse and have taken over its walls. The artists and artwork have all been curated by AJ Lavilla. Each artists’ objective is to spread some art and good vibes. The FOBBS is a Filipino collective of artists mostly based in NYC featuring: AJ Lavilla, OG Millie, RJ One, Murrz, Mad Vaillan, Kick or Treat, Paolo Tolentino and Jappy Lemon. FOBBS along with a few artist friends, has completely transformed Southeast Asia Market's warehouse!
Kevin Liang is the C.E.O. of S.E.A. Market (Southeast Asia Market), whose clients include corporate cafeterias such as JP Morgan, Facebook, and Google, as well as mid to high-end restaurants, museums, and hotels. Their thousands of active customers range from award-winning chefs to smaller mom & pop shops. They have become a Manhattan staple for food service because S.E.A. Market is the only Asian food distributor in the greater New York area that offers dry, frozen, and fresh grocery items from all parts of Asia, including Korea, Japan, Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, India, and more.
The warehouse sees a lot of activity, with its number of employees, trucks, and vendors going in and out during all hours of the day. Kevin wanted to do something for his hardworking staff. He looked at his warehouse and its huge, blank walls and decided they could use some color and life. “When I received possession of the warehouse it was dimly lit and all of the walls were white. It was not exciting and certainly not inspirational. My staff deserves something way better than this. I wanted to improve their overall work experience here at Southeast Asia Market”, said Kevin.
Kevin Liang, owner of the S.E.A. Market
Fred Hua, a former business owner of Nha Toi and Nha Minh, who is currently Southeast Asia Market’s chef consultant, knows the local art scene in Brooklyn and Queens very well. He introduced Kevin to AJ Lavilla, and the two of them spoke about painting the warehouse. When AJ saw the space he knew he could fill in the warehouse with all different types of artists. Kevin's goal was to give the artists complete artistic freedom. The only criteria that the artists were given was to create something inspirational and positive. Fred acted as the project manager during the entire process to also ensure that there were some pieces that were Asian food related.
"We are in a time where street art is more embraced and encouraged than ever before. We wanted to be part of that culture," said, Fred Hua, Project Manager.
"Free Your Dreams!" by @ajlavilla
The FOBBS was established in 2017 by founder, AJ Lavilla with original members RJ, Mad Vaillan, OG Millie and Kick or Treat. Their first project was at BKLYN House Hotel where they painted panels along with TurtleCaps. Then they met Jappy Lemon in November 2017 and Murrz and Paolo joined last year.
At S.E.A. Market, AJ thought of putting up the Statue of Liberty and instead of holding up a torch, she's holding up a brush and painting, "FREE YOUR DREAMS," and as AJ says, "it represents friendship, dreams, and freedom." It also features doodles and fun, positive motivating words throughout the brightly colored piece that is probably the first one that catches your eye as you walk into the warehouse.
"While working at S.E.A. Market I realized it was a labor intensive environment. Therefore, I just wanted to leave behind something fun, motivating for the people every time they come to work." said, AJ.
He feels that working with the FOBBS collective means that they all have the same mindset and are all moving towards the same goal and paths to success. "When I first saw us painting as a group in Brooklyn House Hotel in October 2017, which OG Millie curated, I didn’t see us painting individually, instead I envisioned us painting as a group of Filipino artists based in NY," said, AJ.
AJ feels so blessed and grateful that he gets to paint and come up with ideas that inspires himself and others. He's ready for whatever the universe has in store for him with "blessings and abundance," until then he'll just keep spreading love and positivity around him through his art.
"Pac-Man" Manny Pacquiao, 61 ghosts represent the same number of wins by Pacquiao.
Paolo Tolentino started painting in 2017 and was mentored by, Filipino artist, Art Zamora. He painted his first mural at PS9 curated by Jeff Beler. His friends Matt Yradand and Pat Frades, both Filipino and Filipina artists, really pushed him to pick up a paint brush. After meeting his fellow FOBBS crew, TurtleCaps, and Belowkey it made Paolo get serious and try spray paint and painting walls.
"...with the FOBBS, we help each other with our art, giving each other advice on how to do certain techniques and styles. We also help each other get painting gigs!" said, Paolo. "I didn’t make friends, I made a family away from England and the Philippines. Our collective really feels like a family."
He chose to paint Manny Pacquiao, because the "Pacman" came from nothing, but with hard work and dedication to his craft, he became a boxing legend and a senator in the Philippines and is an inspirational story.
Paolo is still learning different techniques and is trying to figure out his own style. He wants to master spray painting and he hopes for more commissions and shows within the next few months.
Bruce Lee by @paolo_tolentino
"Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend." - Bruce Lee
"Female and Filipina representation means a lot to us." - (@fobbsnyc)
S.E.A. Market wanted the pieces to be positive, food themed or portraits of Asian icons. For her largest mural to date, Murrz chose Whang-od because she is an immigrant of the Philippines and wanted to make sure her culture was represented. She is also a tattoo enthusiast and Whang-od at 102 years old, is the oldest living traditional tattoo artist in the world and the last practitioner of Kalinga tattooing. Also featured is Yayoi Kusama who is a huge inspiration to Murrz because she is a poster child for and brings awareness to mental illness and for her ability to convey emotions and thoughts into impressive, beautiful works of art.
"In Asian culture a lot of representation is male focused. I wanted to break out of that mold and champion Asian women," said Murrz. "I was fortunate to have been able to finish it the night before I moved to Chicago."
For her third largest wall, OG Millie painted Jackie Chan. Sticking with the South East Asian inspirational themes, she saw it as a sign when her friend, who works alongside Jackie Chan, posted about his new book release and she felt this was a perfect moment to pay tribute to him. Also, growing up her father was an avid binge watcher of all his movies.
OG knew AJ through IG (lol...you got that straight?!) for about 5 years and had mutual friends, but finally met in person when he invited her to check out his live painting event at Underhill Walls curated by Jeff Beler and from there she met the other members of the FOBBS group.
She has an upcoming show entitled, "Diamonds, Superheroes & Icons," curated by Kulture Hub and "Not Your Muse," that will collaborate with Nomadworks and the A$AP Foundation and will feature emerging artists such as herself and @reso914. It's opening March 22nd 7-11pm at 1216 Broadway New York, NY.
On being a part of a strong group of Filipino artists - "To me it means everything...we are representing our cultures to the fullest, especially by banding together as a collective. We create events to help others acknowledge our culture, such as the last group show entitled, 'Sari Sari Pop Up,' which means variety/convenience shop. We also support each other's events when we can and I think that's important as artists, to support other artists as well." said, OG Millie.
Jackie Chan portrait by @ogmillie
FOBBS and friends and the S.E.A. Market Murals (cont.)
L: Mad Vaillan @madvaillan with Lucky Rabbit @luckyrabbit
& R: Savior Elmundo @saviorelmundo
Rebecca Scheckman @rebecca_scheckman
Lanny Hoang @lannyswood hand painted, first mural.
Jason Naylor @jasonnaylor
What does the future hold for the FOBBS crew?
They recently met with the Philippine Consulate and they will be announcing something regarding that meeting soon. Check their page @fobbsnyc in the upcoming weeks to find out more. They're also hoping for more group shows and projects like the one at the S.E.A. Market.
...and for the S.E.A Market?
"This summer I am going to invite all of the artists back to the warehouse for an art show. I couldn’t think of a better way to do it than having artwork in the space. I also saw an opportunity to give back to the community. I had over a thousand square feet of wall space for young artists to explore their creativity." said, Kevin.
"We are so lucky to have all these artists bless us with their talents and skills. It gives me one more reason to go to work!" said Fred Hua, Sales Rep, Chef Consultant, and Product Advisor at S.E.A. Market.
"AJ Lavilla and his FOBBS crew gave me something that is well above and beyond my expectations. They have given me and Southeast Asia Market more than what we had hoped for. We are forever thankful for such a good team." said, Kevin, owner of the S.E.A. Market.
This is just another example of art as therapy and how it can improve moods and emotions of any workplace especially such a labor intensive one like this. Through their creativity, FOBBS and friends are keeping the hardworking group of S.E.A. Market employees positive and motivating them on a daily basis. They were given artistic freedom and left their thoughtful pieces of art to inspire others. The FOBBS collective is always forward moving and making waves; we can't wait to see their progression and what they do next! And like Mad Vaillan said, they're gonna take over 'da world'!
For more information:
S.E.A. Market: website
S.E.A. Market @seamarketny
RJ One @rj.one
Paolo Tolentino @paolo_tolentino
Rebecca Scheckman @rebecca_scheckman
Lanny Hoang @lannyswood
Jason Naylor @jasonnaylor
Lucky Rabbit @aluckyrabbit
Savior Elmundo @saviorelmundo
sari sari store by @snaphd_nyc