Pop Artist Sean Go in Paris, Photo by Phuong Dang


Paris-Based Pop Artist Sean Go Translates Multiculturalism into Art

Nostalgia is sweet.

Written by Kody Boye

Colorful Roots in Manila Spark Messages of Diverse Possibilities.

When Sean Go was growing up in the Philippines, he was only allowed to eat candy, drink iced tea, and slurp his native specialty mango sago (with tons of syrup) on special occasions — maybe once a week, or unless it was someone’s birthday party. Go recounts that his favorite experience was sipping bottomless iced tea, because it was usually his reward. Maybe this is one of the reasons that Go loves to paint candy, sugary drinks, and gluttonous pleasures in his art. It makes sense — nostalgia is sweet.

Like these earthly treasures of glucose so enticing, Go’s color palette is abundant with color, varied in textures and tones as he combines multiple types of paint in one painting, ranging from acrylic paint to leather paint to house wall paint and spray paint too. Go’s works have a child-like barrier-free appeal. They do not intimidate and allow individuals to enjoy art through global pop culture symbols that are appreciated and not obscure.

Like Go’s education, Go is sizeable. He is 189 centimeters tall (6 foot 3), often in all black, with a stoic manner, often looking quite serious… and dare I say intimidating. His large, free flowing apparel makes him look somewhat of a big ninja... combining themes of both the dark and the light.

Go’s works though speak to the past while bridging new characters, some appropriated and some of his own. Go’s inspiration comes from Philippine banality and creativity at the same time. He loves bootleg toys, hilarious fake merchandise, and enjoys seeing non-canon interpretations of what anime characters could become under different contexts.

Go was brought up in a traditional Christian household, going to church and being an active participant in missionaries of charity and Gawad Kalinga. Go’s parents believed social causes, seeing, and helping those in need would be formative in his development later. Go also worked in his mother’s family hardware store, where he would stack locks and bolts with his brother Jorge Go in hot and dusty rooms in the summer.

Go is fluent in 4 languages: Fukien (Taiwanese), Chinese, Filipino (Tagalog) and English. He was forced to learn Chinese to celebrate his heritage. Go enjoyed watching anime, playing cowboy, and building with blocks. These were instances where he could imagine different possibilities in life.

An Elite Education Spanning Law to Art

Go likes to learn… perhaps a bit too much! He already has eight degrees.

When you look closely into Go’s degrees from two of the best art schools in the world — Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and Parson’s School of Design — they are not technical MFAs. Go’s degree from FIT is a Master of Art in Art Market Studies, and his degree from Parson’s is a Master in Fashion Studies — not fashion design. Of course, there are intersectionalities in these courses, but it is evident from Go’s degree choices that he loves intellectual challenges, an intimate understanding of how social systems work, and perhaps how to conquer them. Go’s focus at Parsons is understanding the roots of appropriation in fashion, specifically workwear culture and subcultures, as well as how the media portrayal of villains in film changes over time to reflect social aspirations and fears.

Prior to his two art degrees at Parsons and FIT, Go earned three bachelor’s degrees from UC Berkeley in Business Administration, Economics, and Geography, as well as a Master of Science from Columbia’s School of Architecture, and an MBA and Master’s in Law from Emory. Go was one of around 27 triple degrees out of more than 20,000 students at UC Berkeley. Go was also the first JM/MBA in the history of Emory University. The lessons in communicating stories — “narratology” — would later feature in his art in communicating themes of the human condition.

Go, during his time living in New York, felt it was a time to learn about modern and contemporary art from museums like the MET, MOMA, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Go studied under scholars and curators including Dr. Alexandra Schwartz and Natasha Degen (a notable art critic and writer).

Now in Paris, Go is taking in works of Renaissance masters, impressionists, and learning about the history of art prior to the shift in cultural and financial capital to New York from Paris. Go’s projects in Parsons Paris include doing research on surreal archives on various brands and learning under Miren Arzalluz, a fashion historian who is known for being the head of the Palais Galeria and former head of the Balenciaga Museum.

As an appropriation artist, Go has the job of always being in a rich dialogue with artists and their works from the past, serving as a bridge between old ideas and novel ones.

Challenging Common Sense through Appropriation Art

With Go’s extensive education, he tackles themes that are political and philosophical in nature, like the way one approaches myth making and creating lore. For Go, who has been influenced by many artists, he likes to see what shapes “common sense” and how iterations of what is acceptable knowledge evolve over time. Many gender norms, statements, and cultural ideas have been produced sometimes by arbitrary laws that may be outdated or rooted in ideas that no longer have a front seat. Go loves to playfully touch on these themes of cultural production in his artworks, using symbols like famous cartoon characters that eventually may outlast their own symbology too.

Go’s art is often described as imbued with child-like wonder, with strokes that are jagged and thunderous but have a captivating appeal. His works can sometimes be described as ugly and grotesque, as his subjects often look mutilated in ways that a drawing from a toddler would look. Other times, Go’s work has clean lines and pays respect to pop artists and other influential figures. However, Go’s visual preferences are largely subject to the meanings of his art, which comes first and foremost.

Go’s works have a candy-like surreal aspect to them, with wit and gleeful energies of play and humor. Go hopes his characters and fun pieces will make art more accessible. Art is often elitist, with some artists using processes and nuances that are too inaccessible to the common person, and Go is hoping to change that by using familiar faces as communication tools.

Go also plays frequently with obvious appropriation spoofs of the works of other artists. His reframed meanings create new ideas that have a humorous appeal and titles. For example, his work the Persistence of Egg plays with the theme of frailty and beauty as well as the themes of the persistence of certain ideas when they are visually seen again and again. Go’s model Kateryna Prekrasna is placed inside an egg, which is often seen as a symbol of purity and perfection, and the start to a new life.

Persistence of Egg, featuring model Kateryna Prekrasna

Go’s work “Angel” uses strokes that are rough and jagged then applied with cartoony filters. Go’s work was inspired by the commercial and theatrical aspect of celebrity, represented in his work by a model. Go’s work alludes to the fact that societies will always be enticed by beauty, that it is ephemeral, and that the constant need to present optics creates the need to constantly show beautiful pictures to consumers. Go certainly has a playful demeanor and sense of humor and joviality.

Go’s works are heavily influenced by appropriation artists who view subjects from different lenses and who turn stories around, imagined in a way that confuses and perplexes us. His works allude to the styles of many famous artists and to pop culture references. Go’s works often include logos of companies, particularly of children’s toys and consumer brands, as art that we know today is so intertwined with economic capital. Go’s art loves to draw on social snapshots of broad macroeconomic trends, and he does well to leave his art open to multiple interpretations.

After all, it is the viewer that completes the art…

Fallen Angel, featuring model Anna Nigriv
Barbie Devil, featuring model Daria Panda
Persistence of Memory, featuring model Mina Ciambellotti

Go’s works in his Secret Fresh 2023 show, his YOD Gallery show at Art Fair Philippines 2024, and his upcoming show in London and Secret Fresh in 2024 are about nostalgia and the process of transformation that heroes take from their original paths, as well as the paths of villains, who in alternative universes could have become heroes themselves. Go hopes that we can take ownership of our choices and be free from societal and hegemonic paralysis so that we may experience life authentically and with vivacity, without having to constantly second guess or doubt our missed opportunities. Representation is vital for Go, as he hopes more students can explore their passions as viable careers, even if it requires a job pivot.

Go has been exhibited frequently in international shows too, such as Indoseni’s projects in Jakarta, in Cat-Eye creative in Atlanta, and pop-up shows in New York City. Go’s exhibits in Atlanta were widely successful and supported by an American entrepreneur. Go also has a large patronage of business tycoon families and collectors from Ivy League business schools, most notably Wharton, Stanford Business School, and Columbia Business School.

Exhibits and Positive Reception Locally and Internationally

Go’s June 2024 Secret Fresh Solo titled “Victory Road” is about how paths that appear divergent often have more similarities with one another. It is a message of hope that uses the visual language of anime. Go’s message is one of joyous possibilities and one that is about homecoming and taking charge of your path and making your choices unique. Go’s prior solo at Secret Fresh in 2023 called the “Fallacies of Fantasy” was reviewed well and supported by the elite art circuit in the Philippines and Southeast Asia.

Go is planning to have an exhibit at D Contemporary Gallery in London later this year, a project by DF Art Agency. Go is lucky to be an artist of DF Art Agency, which is an arts management company owned by a leading dealer and curator internationally.

A Committed Path to International Circuits

When Go started his professional artistic career, many questioned his commitment, as it is not every day that you see a successful business man switch paths to become an artist. It doesn’t make sense. Low foreseeability into future income streams, unpredictable cash flow intakes driven by macroeconomic trends, and fickle sentiment of changing tastes and preferences.

Given a socio-political and cultural analysis of the production of art, it would be foolish not to bet on Sean Go.

Go’s signaling in the market is very strong, with gallery representation and shows in multiple countries in Asia, including prime markets like Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan. Go clearly uses his networks well, having had key leadership positions such as founding the Berkeley Club of the Philippines and interviewing co-chair for Emory University. Go has all the necessary ingredients it takes to become famous, perhaps in the Philippines at first, but his global networks suggest that international greatness may be on the cards as well.

Never-Ending Learning and Ambitions for the Future

Go’s visual repertoire is extremely varied and diverse, as Go’s yearning for knowledge will never be quenched. He studies extensively and with deep thought and rigor — at the top institutions in the world and through his art… deceptively simple but packed with years of social and political theory. With an artist like Go, you can see him follow specific painting styles, but you can also see his grungy monsters take sloppy impastos and manual error.

Go’s works have a timeless appeal because of the way his characters are so accessible and place the viewer as the protagonist in the viewing experience. His works are a prime example of “viewer-centric” art, which has a level of comfort and helps break down barriers to enjoy art. Go’s art studio is very prolific and in a short time span has achieved so much within his home country, and he has established himself as one of the most highly sought-after and dangerously intelligent artists of his time.

In the future, Go hopes to make more public art and installations of grand scales. He is working on large scale paintings over 10 feet as statement pieces for his collectors and is working with several top brands in the Philippines and globally to launch merchandise and other witty collections that bridge the worlds of satire, art, and merchandise. Go’s Secret Fresh Shirt collaboration paid homage in appropriation style, questioning the nature of reality.

Go is working with an iconic denim brand in the Philippines, as well as the Manila Hotel, a historic 5-star hotel, on sculptural works too. Go is also cooking up toy projects and a sneaker collaboration.

For Go’s art, simplicity is what brings out the most emotion visually, but his topics studied are equally complex and drive us to question the human condition.

BDG Media newsroom and editorial staff were not involved in the creation of this content.