Niel Atienza on Skateboarding, Nature, and Filipino Art — Interview

Niel Atienza
Niel Atienza, return, 2022. 2' x 3', Oil on canvas.

“...once I started skating I felt like I’m an artist. My skateboard is my brush, and the streets or the obstacles are my canvas.

So explains Niel Atienza, a Filipino artist and skateboarder who caught the eye of Picture This Post ahead of his upcoming feature with artist-run gallery KalawakanSpacetime at Art Fair Philippines 2023. Atienza’s art exemplifies the gallery’s mission: an artistic expression of punk rock, graffiti, and skateboarding culture.

Niel Atienza
Atienza, slowly seeing, 2022. 2' x 3', Oil on canvas.

Here, Picture This Post (PTP) speaks in more detail with Neil Atienza (NA) about his perspective on his artistic evolution and the role that the artist-run gallery KalawakanSpacetime has played in this evolution.

(PTP) How does your work reflect skateboarding or other subcultures?

(NA) My work really is rooted in skateboarding. I became a free thinker once I started skating. Being creative is one of the things it has taught me. Like what trick can I do on this street curb, what does it feel like to ride the downhill road? Simple things like that. It’s like once I started skating I felt like I’m an artist. My skateboard is my brush, and the streets or the obstacles are my canvas. Something like that. Growing up with that type of thinking gave me the energy to explore new things to express myself such as graffiti. And into a deeper connection with art through painting. 


What elements of those subcultures do you aim to include in your work?

I guess it comes out naturally. Even if my subject isn’t about these subcultures, the act of moving freely, the act of failing multiple times, the mistakes. It comes out naturally in my work. It’s all there. The feeling, the failure, the trying all over again. 

Niel Atienza
Atienza, I saw it changing right infront of me, 2022. 2' x 3', Oil on canvas.
Niel Atienza
Photo: Niel Atienza

What do you want to convey to viewers by creating images of these themes and subcultures?

To reflect. And see themselves. See or rather listen to what surrounds them. 

Niel Atienza
Photo: Atienza in his studio

What is your inspiration for creating art on a wet canvas or other unconventional mediums?

 It just happened. Starting a painting on a blank white canvas is very intimidating. So what I did was just start wetting the canvas until I figured out what to paint. And it turns out that I like the result. From then on I fell in love with this process.

Niel Atienza
Atienza, this is what faith feels like, 2022. 2' x 3', Oil on canvas.
Niel Atienza
Atienza, welcomed me through light, 2022. 2' x 3', Oil on canvas.

Do you feel like your art differs in style and subject matter from more ‘mainstream’ artists?

Everyone is different. My subject matter differs from others because it is very personal for me, it is what my eye sees. I tend to focus more on what is around me. Like natural subjects and translate them into how I want them to look. 

How has working with an artist-run gallery like KalawakanSpacetime impacted your art?

 Working with KalawakanSpacetime has had a huge impact on the art I create. With Jan and Gabe, I feel like we are both on the same level of appreciation for life, love, and the world. My first solo show with them opened up new learnings about my work and new ideas too.  I appreciate how they support everyone from these subcultures, graffiti, skateboarding, and punk rock. They know us. They really know whose voice needs to be heard.

 But to answer your question, If I had to work with a non-artist-run gallery, my creative process wouldn’t change. It’s still the same.

How do you feel your generation of artists in the Philippines differs from older generations? 

Yes, I feel like this generation is all about exploring and trying new things but still getting influenced by the elder generation. It’s like a combination of the ideas from the elders and the exploration of this generation. 

KalawakanSpacetime Gallery View
Photo: KalawakanSpacetime Gallery View

How has your own art transformed over the course of your career so far? How do you see it changing or progressing in the future?

 My art transformed as I transformed. Like when I was younger, I am full of grit, and anger and my subjects are unclear. My head is all over the place. As I grow older, I tend to practice being calm, forgiving myself, and accepting things I cannot control. I learn to appreciate the world more. Listen to what it tells me. I see beauty more. I feel love more. And it helped a lot with my art. 

Niel Atienza
Atienza, confessions to the trees, 2022. 2' x 3', Oil on canvas.

My work is very simple. I have said to my partner that I never thought that I would be the Landscape-type-of-painter kind or the one who would choose trees and water as a subject. But it just happened.  As I grow old I learn to appreciate small things and what surrounds me. Also, nature is strong. It is a strong one. It has a deep connection within all of us. And I try translating that into my work. The human-to-nature connection. I feel like it is a very important matter, especially in this modern world. To not lose connection with the earth. To take care, love, and appreciate the world. KalawakanSpacetime, as I have said, has the same level of appreciation for life, love, and the world as me.

How do I see my art changing or progressing in the future? I still don’t know. My art changes as I change. Progresses as I progress. So let’s see...


To learn more about Niel Atienza and KalawakanSpacetime, check out the website for KalawakanSpacetime.



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Photos Courtesy of Niel Atienza and KalawakanSpacetime



Ben West

About the Author: Ben West

Benjamin West is a Filipino-American, born and raised in California. Having grown up somewhat disconnected culturally and physically from the Philippines, his connection to his heritage is bridged through eating copious amounts of lumpia and learning and writing about Filipino artists, one of whom was his grandfather. Ben spends most of his free time reading, listening to music, attempting to cook, and swimming.

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