Earth Day

Tyler Ramsey: Walking on eternal sunshine

Kai Magsanoc
The artist who uses his fingers to create controlled chaos visits Manila and infects it with eclectic energy

ARTIST TYLER RAMSEY KEPT asking people about themselves, about what they do, at the lunch with the press. Instead of the one being interviewed, he was the one interviewing. All photos by Kai Magsanoc

MANILA, Philippines – Artist Tyler Ramsey’s voice is loud. He laughs loudly, too. And when he greets you, he won’t stop with a handshake; he’ll reach out and give you a bear hug.

“I’m from Oklahoma,” he says. “That’s how we do it there.”

If you believe in aura and the effect of energy emitted by a person, then I’m sure you will understand me when I say that Tyler’s aura is psychedelic; his energy so positively electric.

I observe Tyler across the table and see that even the tips of his fingers, his nails, are splashed with color. This is not contrived; the look not a planned equity to let people know he’s an artiste.

If there is one thing Tyler is, he’s spontaneous. He can launch a conversation at the snap of a finger, jump from one topic to another and break into laughter whenever and wherever.

Tyler doesn’t hold back on anything, maybe that’s why he says he’s an artist who wants to “keep giving.”

‘Be interesting but, much more importantly, be interested’

PAINT ALL OVER. Tyler is a splash of color, literally and figuratively.

“It comes from my mother and my father who are wildly passionate people,” he begins when I ask him where all that “sunshine” comes from. “My father is amazingly gregarious.”

Tyler’s grandfather was a “true adventurer” who authored the book Time Out for Adventure: Let’s Go to Mexico! 

“I feel like I just have a lot of verve.”

Tyler’s larger-than-life personality is reflected in his art: colorful, abstract, eclectic. Visual therapy-wise, you could say that his art can leave you feeling — happy.

“I feel that, as an artist, I truly present something that is unique to me,” he says. “There are artists who can go technically into their heads and come up with unique, wonderful ideas.

“In my case, what I offer is just something that’s God-given, inspired by my love for people.”

When Tyler talks, his hands involuntarily move. I mention to him that the hands are at the same level as the heart chakra (chest) and it is said that, when the heart feels something, the hands move to express that feeling.

“It’s the same thing when I paint,” he says about his excited and brisk hand movement. Tyler has never owned a paintbrush, and uses his fingers to create his art.

‘I always thought that art is about telling stories’

MY VERY OWN TYLER Ramsey artwork: the face he drew at the back of my business card.

I tell Tyler about the T’boli women of South Cotabato, who are said to weave designs based on their dreams. Has he ever done an artwork based on a dream?

“I feel that there are a few figures that have stayed in my work since the very beginning, like this super ambiguous image of a dragon,” he shares with a huge smile. “When I was a kid, I always liked to hear stories about a dragon and a dog, so my dad would draw a dragon and a dog and that’s how my stories would be ‘read’ to me.

“This dragon has stayed in everything,” he says.

While working on a collaboration with an American musical director who did stop-motion videos to accompany Tyler’s artwork, he says, “I realized that I start a lot of abstract paintings with this design” and proceeds to draw a face at the back of my business card.

“Doing abstract stuff just comes naturally out of me,” he says. “This face is repeated through everything.”

‘I wanted to live a life that is big enough for two people’

'I'M WEARING MY WORK pants,' says Tyler, who confesses that he can wear the same thing 'every single day.'

“My father committed suicide when I was a child,” Tyler tells me lightly. “He shot himself in the head, but he survived.”

That happened when Tyler was 10 years old, and he says he already knew then that his father won’t be the same person no matter what.

The incident may have been one of the reasons why Tyler wanted to become an artist, “because I wanted to live a life that is big enough for two people.”

I found the incident ironic to the “gregarious” way Tyler described his father in the beginning of our interview, and I tell him so. 

Tyler, thoughtfully and quietly, answers, “My father was full of life and some of that comes with a dark side. When it happened, he was cleaning his gun, he was unhappy about something and he was also having trouble with some images popping into his head from his time in Vietnam.

“It was everything at once,” Tyler recalls. “It happened one night; it changed everything one night.

“I’ve always been very sad that I didn’t get to continue knowing my father the way he was before the incident,” says the artist, his eyes teary and sad.

“Sometimes I can talk about certain things all smiles… yeah, but not today.”

‘I love TOMS, but I didn’t start TOMS!’

'BLAKE MYCOSKIE STARTED TOMS, not me,' Tyler says with a laugh.

To cheer Tyler up, I ask him about why he is in Manila, and what his current project for shoe brand TOMS is.

“I’ve been wanting to do what I can to give back to the TOMS movement in my own way,” he says. “I’ve been collaborating with TOMS for so long, and I am honored to be part of it.”

Since 2006, Tyler has been doing limited edition collections for TOMS. In between, he would travel, then come back to do another collection.

“I just wanted to throw myself in there more, experience as much culture and give as much of myself as I can,” he says.

Tyler admits that, in the beginning, his art was very much about him, his feelings, his emotions. 

Until, at a certain point, it took a very specific turn.

“All of a sudden, I started working with the United Nations on a big project,” he says with earnest. “Beginning that day, every single thing that I did was no longer just about me, but about the world through my eyes.”

With his energy overflowing, he makes art with the same passion, same sincerity, same generosity and same vibrance that he approaches life.

Yes, Tyler Ramsey is an artist of the world. –

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