"I was looking just to make sure that people had groceries, people had diapers, people were able to pay half their rent,” says Guy Stanley Philoche

By Rachel DeSantis
November 10, 2020 12:42 PM
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Guy Stanley Philoche
| Credit: ZsPop Editing

It’d be easy to mistake the walls of artist Guy Stanley Philoche’s New York City apartment for an art gallery — they are, after all, lined with $20,000 worth of art from local artists across the globe.

What began as an act of kindness for a friend quickly exploded into something more for Philoche, who found a way to give back to the community that had given him everything when they needed it most: giving struggling artists a boost by buying as many pieces as he possibly could.

“The sad thing is, I live in a small little New York apartment, so it’s like, literally covered with artwork,” Philoche, 43, tells PEOPLE. “I just wanted to do my part. I really, really just wanted to do my part.”

Things were looking up for Philoche before the coronavirus pandemic hit New York in March; he was fresh off a successful, sold-out show and was looking to reward himself with a pricey watch.

Guy Stanley Philoche's hallway in his Upper East Side apartment
| Credit: Courtesy Guy Stanley Philoche

“I’ve always wanted this really beautiful Rolex watch. It’s a $15-$20,000 watch, so I was like, ‘I’m gonna splurge,’” he says. “This is going to be my little splurge for staying focused and working hard and grinding.”

Before he could take the plunge, though, New York City became a COVID-19 epicenter, and soon, he realized his money would be better-suited elsewhere, especially after speaking with an artist friend who’d just lost his job and was struggling as a new father.

“I ended up buying two of his pieces,” Philoche says. “So I go home, hang his two pieces, and I realize that now’s not really the time to splurge on a watch. Let me do my part and help out.”

The purchase sparked an idea, and soon, Philoche was on Instagram putting out a call to his followers to inform them of his mission: He had $20,000 to spend, and he wanted to put every last dime toward helping his community.

“I was looking just to make sure that people had groceries, people had diapers, people were able to pay half their rent,” he says, adding that he planned to spend between $300 and $500 per piece. “It was just my way to try and help out as much as possible.”

As soon as he’d posted, Philoche’s DMs were flooded with messages from artists imploring him to take a look at their work, and he put his personal art collection in storage to make room for all of his new purchases.

Philoche says he wasn’t buying the art just to buy it, but tried to choose pieces he truly loved, and pieces that were actually valued within his budget range. He also covered all of the shipping costs.

“There was this one artist who had never sold anything in his whole life. I was like, ‘Hey man, I love your work. And you know what, I’m buying two pieces,’” he says. “And he was just like, ‘I’ve never sold anything before. Oh my god.’”

Guy Stanley Philoche
| Credit: ZsPop Editing

He even got his collectors on board, too, and after they chipped in money for Philoche to buy pieces for them, too, he was able to pour about $60,000 total into the project.

“So many people were wanting to help throughout this, but they didn’t know how to help people,” he says. “The first responders were being well taken care of by the city, by the volunteers. Which they deserve! They totally deserve. But I wanted to help my community.”

Art’s been there for Philoche in a way few other things have; born to Haitian parents who moved to Connecticut when he was a child, he left home after high school to pursue his dreams of being an artist.

In defying his parents’ demands that he take a more traditional career route, he also bucked the chance to have them pay for his college education, and so he put himself through school at the Paier College of Arts by working while taking classes.

He’s never forgotten his roots, though, and even once placed one of his own paintings worth $110,000 on a street corner in East Harlem for a lucky someone to pick up and own, an initiative he calls Art for the People.

“My dealer wasn’t too happy about that one,” Philoche, who is repped by Cavalier Galleries, says with a laugh.

Philoche has also lent his talents to the city he loves so much, and in June, was one of eight artists to pitch in on a Black Lives Matter mural in Harlem.

On the letter I, he painted the four badge numbers of the officers who killed George Floyd, crossed out in red, and on the V, he put 8:46, the amount of time Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee sat on Floyd’s neck.

Guy Stanley Philoche
| Credit: Courtesy Guy Stanley Philoche

“I think that was probably one of the most amazing experiences in my life,” he says. “People sat there, people cried, people touched it, people stood on it, people photographed it. I think that was probably one of the most important works I've ever done in my career so far.”

“To actually witness it, to see a little girl stand on your two letters and put her fist up and take a picture… It was just powerful,” he adds.

“I didn’t have a gatekeeper when I moved to New York City. No one opened the doors and opened the gate,” he says. “I had to go through the back door, I had to climb up the window just to be in the room. But now that I'm in the room, I have to make it my responsibility to open the door for other people now.”