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Photograph by Jilson Seckler Tiu

The extragalactic, hyper fresh world of Bigboy Cheng

The famous DJ, businessman, and king of art toys dishes on kicks, and the dream collection that got away.
Mookie-Katigbak Lacuesta | Aug 29 2018

Like the universe, Bigboy Cheng’s world is expanding. Discovering his world is as magical as knowing that there are systems of stars moving away from us— the farther away, the faster the expansion. In Bigboy Cheng’s case, the farther away something is, the closer he wants to bring you to it.  He wants to take you back to your childhood one toy at a time—that lit, golden space as far away from your reach as unseen, moving galaxies.

Bigboy’s house is a psychedelic solar system of cool. His foyer is a high-end homage to all our childhoods, whatever walk of life we come from.  Supreme LV luggage shares the same room as a hotdog stand; beside it, there’s a sari-sari store stocked with multi-colored packs of Japanese wafers and snacks, cards, knick knacks and tchotchkes. Authentic sari-sari store signage hangs on the wall—a true tribute to the Pinoy’s misplaced love for quotation marks, tapsilog and pork chops, with the words “we serve lunch” painted in vintage red. There are the Jollibee collectibles, the Astro Boy figurines, the Mazinger Z cards, and the Bearbrick collection in every conceivable series and color. And then there’s the pinball machine and the wild pings that resound through the house any time there’s a guest with plucky hands.

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The room that encapsulates Big Boy’s two big passions: art and toys, and the renowned artists that make them. This room has art toys by many of current greats: BenCab, Ventura, Justiniani, Javier, Santos, and Borlongan, and Cruz. The painting of Big Boy Cheng as Voltes V is by Olan Ventura.

“I started collecting toys when I was eight. Very early,” he says. “My parents used to bring home toys from Taiwan and Hong Kong.”  At eight, he was also collecting He-Man and G.I. Joe figurines. Toys by Hasbro and Kenner. There weren’t any display cases then, but the young Cheng would be sure each plastic warrior found its place back in the family bodega when playtime was over. That’s when the craze started. From figurines to just about everything now.  “Picker ako of everything from toys to shoes to cds,” he says with a boyish grin.  

Various rooms emanate from the entrance like planets in a solar system. There’s the Art Toy room where one can find toys by our top visual artists—anything from the famous Anito Kristos by Ronald Ventura, a portrait of Big Boy as Voltes V by Ventura’s brother and fellow-artist artist, Olan Ventura; shoes festooned on the wall as part of a graffiti installation by Jigger Cruz, and panda sculptures benefitting WWF by such greats as BenCab, Mark Justinani, Emong Borlongan, Geraldine Javier and John Santos.

There’s also the room that carries various Supreme paraphernalia and posters; the nook with his turntable and the beloved BenCab painting hovering gently above it. Another room with pop toys by the younger set of art superstars—wide-eyed figures with splayed insides by Yeo kaa, sinister Maria Claras by Luis Lorenzana, among countless other freaky and sublime favorites.

And then there’s the famous sneaker collection—Yeezeys, Air Jordans, even coveted Nikes from iconic 80’s flick, Back to the Future. These come with thrilling backstories—street riots, treks around the world finding rare kicks, the Nike Air Mags sourced from a friend who knew a seller in LA—the bodyguard that escorted his friend to and from the seller’s place, making sure that the precious pair found their way back home to Cheng in Manila.  

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Big Boy ponders what’s next in his art toy room.

Another room in Big Boy Cheng’s house boasts the work of the nest wave or art superstars.

Big Boy loves his sneakers: Yeezeys, Air Jordans, first editions, rare kicks, all loved.

Big Boy’s turntable and his favorite artwork among all his artworks, a BenCab.

Big Boy among his prized collections and kicks.

Sculptures by greats like BenCab and Lorenzana are exhibited in display cases in one of Big Boy Cheng’s sacred spaces at home.

Big Boy Cheng’s prized kicks in every shade, color combination, and provenance possible.

Coveted and rare Supreme items which include the brand’s collaboration with LV by way of a massive (and massively expensive) trunk.

Another art toys room—this time made by the next wave of art world superstars.

The famous sneaker collection.

Bigboy is also a collector of hyphenates. He’s a DJ, a businessman, a son, a husband, and father. He could be spinning in Bacolod or Cebu, and the odds are leveled ground he’ll find a new business partner in the crowd. As proprietor and owner of Secret Fresh, arguably the king of all pop art galleries in the country, he collaborates with established and upcoming artists on art toys—most recently the Anito Bart series by Ronald Ventura which sold out in as many minutes as there are fingers in a hand. “The real specialty of Secret Fresh is art toys,” he says in Tagalog. “We started as a toy shop.” It’s an accidental gallery, Cheng says, because artists love art toys, and this love has spawned countless collaborations with the gallery— with some of the country’s most serious and cerebral artists in serious talks with Cheng on how to make that holy grail of all playthings: a pop art toy. “So from there, the number of art toy collectors just grew and grew. Our dreams were fulfilled,” Cheng says. He’s quick to add that his collaborations are largely founded on friendship. “There really needs to be a bond between Secret Fresh and the artists so that wonderful toys that just pop with life can be made,” he says. His biggest achievement was getting his idol BenCab to collaborate with him on a series of sculptures. “I got to know Tito Ben through his museum. I used to go there often,” he says, “I really wanted to work with him because it was my dream.” Three years later, his childhood idol finally agreed to do a collaboration with Secret Fresh. The experience has been the ultimate dream come true for Cheng, whose most prized possession is a painting by the National Artist.

There are three things a collector obsesses over—his first piece, the one that got away, and the holy grail he chases after all his life. For Cheng, all three things are  lost collections from his young years. “Everything was my first piece,” Cheng says, meaning his childhood toys—as much his as they are yours and mine—that sacred litany of lost things and childhood warriors. Robots. He-Man Figurines. G.I. Joe soldiers. Everything, essentially, from his old bodega. He’s buying them all back now, piece by piece, from sundry auctions and sellers.  “I’m buying them back and I’m enjoying it,” he says, “and then I intend to pass them on to my kids.”

Like the universe, Cheng wants to expand—he wants the new and the fresh; his mind’s on overdrive just thinking of the possibilities.  There are the renovations to his shop every three years, the gallery that now houses a small restaurant and a coffee shop.  “My brain is at its peak,” he says, “sagad na sa tuwa,” he adds in Tagalog. Peak joy, which is more than any one can ever really hope for—a kind of eternal Christmas. Which is what Cheng’s house feels like any given day—the once-a-year delight of sifting through the tinsel and wrapping paper and finding the one toy you’ve coveted all year. Cheng’s at once Santa Claus and eternal child, and your delight is always, somehow, also his.

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Photographs by Jilson Seckler Tiu