Born and raised in the rural town of Barangay Mambabanga in Luna, Isabela, Mars Bugaoan's closest early exposure to art and its varied forms would be the town fiesta. There weren't any art galleries or museums for him to visit. Still, the colourful and creative permutations of art in the annual fiestas laid the foundations of his understanding of visual impact.
"Every year, fiestas are ingrained in the people's consciousness, and we highly anticipate them. There is music, stage design, installation, dance, performance, fashion, and many more," Bugaoan says. "In a fiesta, a town transforms into something joyful, opulent, festive, and people from different ages and social backgrounds gather. Eventually, when we enter school, our knowledge of art becomes structured, defined, and boxed. We forget that art can be found anywhere in our everyday lives," he reflects.
As a child, Bugaoan would flip through the pages of the encyclopedia set at home, and he would be lost in admiration over the colourful photographs and illustrations. He would later join slogan or poster-making competitions at school and bag the Artist of the Year award. This made him a reliable art director for their junior-senior's prom night and graduation ceremonies. Clearly, he was bound to the path of a visual artist; instead, he took advertising as his major at the University of Santo Tomas.
"I wanted to work in television or an advertising agency; that was the goal," he explains. Culminating with a cum laude degree in 2009, he entered the corporate world through graphic design and marketing channels. "When I was working, that's when my goal changed. I didn't plan to become an artist; it just happened. I reached a point that it's my heart's greatest desire, but I didn't know how or where to start," Bugaoan recalls.