Critique Collective

Critique Collective is your source for information and interviews about emerging and established contemporary artists.

Tag: California

David Phillips Paints with the Spirit of the Contemporary American West

David Phillips is a painter from Tulsa, Oklahoma who is now working in Los Angeles, California. He has shown his work at a wide variety of venues including the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Carnegie Hall, and the Downtown Art Center of Los Angeles. Phillips has been featured on CBS News and in the Los Angeles Times. His paintings can also be found on his website.

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Paul Weiner:
Tell us a little about the way you started painting both physically and conceptually.

David Phillips:
I have the first painting I ever made framed inside my house. The painting is an abstract portrait painted in 1983. I was four years old. My grandmother was an oil painter in Oklahoma. She painted flowers, landscapes, and still life. She kept a studio inside her house. When my two younger brothers and I would visit, we would inevitably get into trouble. The adults would separate us into different rooms. I was always confined to the studio. I still remember the smell, the rags, the brushes. I was hooked.

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Paul Weiner:
How did your habit of leaving your artwork places for others to find and take home come about?

David Phillips:
The act of leaving certain pieces of art around Los Angeles has manifested multiples times throughout my career. At first, my studio was simply too packed to hold any more materials. My studio is by the beach. I decided to take all the pages from my sketchbook and put them inside bottles as a take on a message in a bottle. The act of leaving art around town gained traction and became popular in my community. The initial project propagated larger works such as found sculptures and public installations. As of now, I think such public works ran their course, and I no longer do such things.

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Paul Weiner:
Describe your transition from Tulsa, Oklahoma to Venice, California. How was your artwork altered by the move?

David Phillips:
I believe a professional artist must live in a large city. You have to be around the galleries and museums you wish to show. You have to be next to a large market. You have to be directly in the vice grip of struggle. You have to be completely absorbed by the frenetic. Now, I am referring to the artist at the beginning of his career. I am referring to the artist who wants to be collected on a grand scale and be inside major museums, the artist who wants a permanent stamp inside art history. Look at the major contemporary artists post-WWII: Pollock, Guston, Still, Twombly, De Kooning, Rauschenberg, Schnabel, Ruscha, Bacon. The list is endless.

I love Oklahoma. I painted there for years. When I painted in Oklahoma, I painted wildlife. The images I made were more photo recreation or realism. I practiced religiously. I honed my technique. I used oil paints as per their intention, but the paintings fell flat. I had no understanding of the psychological impact of color. I didn’t understand automatism or experimentation. Moving to Los Angeles opened up Pandora’s Box for me artistically. Of course contributing factors such as age, life experience, and maturity come into play. Los Angeles allowed me to live by my terms and become my true self. I completely submersed myself into the life of an artist, a real artist constantly experimenting, always progressing. I completely gainsay the pictorial, the symbolic, the illustrative, and the ever-feared ‘decorative’. I deny the theory that painting has been completely deconstructed. I deny that the contemporary image cannot progress. A new art can still be made. I will die trying to make it.

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Paul Weiner:
Thinking about art markets today, how happy are you with your time around Los Angeles? Would you choose Los Angeles over New York City?

David Phillips:
Whew. Well, that is a question I’d prefer to answer over lots of beer and whiskey. I think a majority of the art in Los Angeles is horrendous. A very large percentage of the artists are “street artists” or have an urban/hip hop vibe that spotlights the twerps making it rather than the actual work. I suppose this is a popular trend in art right now regardless of region, but it is especially prevalent in Los Angeles. The most important lesson to learn by that is to just stick to your vision. Simply put, do not worry for one second what other emerging ‘artists’ are doing. Study your influences relentlessly, and try to stick to your singular vision as an artist. Hone your craft to master prestige. One good thing about having a shitty trend like “street art” being popular is that means there are people with disposable income who are willing to buy. Therefore, it may be slightly easier to sell a picture that was handmade with proper technique. I am continually blown away at the amount of artists in Los Angeles who do not make their own canvas or material. It’s mind blowing. They do not realize that a picture painted on a pre-made, store bought canvas is complete bullshit. If the canvas is pre-made, then the end resulting painting is a collaboration between the artist and the art store. Period. The piece of art’s bio should include “Collaboration Between _____(artist) and Blick Art Supplies” or “Collaboration Between _____(artist) and Hobby Lobby”. They will learn very quickly when they try to get a piece in a respectable museum. I’ve also noticed a majority of artists in Los Angeles do not mix their own colors. They typically paint straight out of the tube.

I love Los Angeles. I love the weather (who wouldn’t?), the beaches, the women, fuck, everything about it. It’s the greatest city in the world in my opinion. The people ruin it, but they can’t take away the great weather and cool vibe. I definitely believe things happen quicker in New York, of course. New York artists also have the luxury of history. When Peggy Guggenheim decided to leave Paris and bring the surrealists to New York, that was it, done and done. The new art world epicenter became New York. Los Angeles will always be on the coattails of that fact. However, that does not mean a new art cannot be made here or important artists won’t prevail. We have numerous examples of very important artists here: Baldessari, Larry Bell, Peter Lodato, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, James Turrell, etc. From a market standpoint, LA has the advantage of population. We have almost 2 million more people than New York City.

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Paul Weiner:
Working seriously in abstraction today can be difficult since the market is so saturated, and so many painters are focused on making abstract paintings purely as commercial objects to be sold. How do you set yourself apart from the crowd of abstract expressionists?

David Phillips:
Well if any artist sets out to create work only to sell,good luck. Don’t get me wrong. An artist obviously needs money just like anybody else needs money. The separating factor is that the need to create the art, the drive, has to be so strong that it supersedes money. Thus, I don’t know how much I believe artists are created. Personally, I think they are born. If the need or will to create is that strong, it means it has been practiced since, well, almost birth. Therefore, once the artists reaches an age of independence or adulthood, the work should be strong enough to warrant sales. Yes, this may alienate the weekend painter or hobbyist, but it draws a very distinct line in the sand between a person who has created or painted his whole life versus a person who wishes he could paint to make money and leave his job. Therefore, I set myself apart in a very major way by being a full-time artist with a working studio. Now, to make it even more niche, I am not just an abstract expressionists. I make abstract paintings, but I also paint realism and portraits, and I make films, music videos, collage pieces, and sculpture. There is an overlaying style or look that I suppose would be recognizable to some, and that is what it is. Different people have called it different things such as avant garde, conceptual, or abstract expressionism. At the end of the day, I just execute whatever idea or build whatever it is I want to accomplish. After that, it’s pretty much out of my hands.

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Paul Weiner:
Museums and collectors have long been fascinated by artists of the American West. Despite differences in style from many of the popular realist Western artists, do you feel that you are the contemporary manifestation of a Western painter?

David Phillips:
I am the contemporary American West.

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Paul Weiner:
Do you feel as if artists are properly valued in American society?

David Phillips:
I do feel that artists are properly valued in America. The problem is that it is the wrong artists. You have to be very careful with art because it is a career where hard work might not pay off. The American public has mistaken gimmick for talent. A majority of today’s most celebrated living artists have achieved success through gimmick rather than practice, study, or hard work. You have a guy who screen prints a Ronald McDonald all over town, then you have another guy who picks Count Dracula. This is not art. This is gimmick. Don’t get me wrong. The allure of fame, consistent art sales, and major shows is enough to attract any artist. Now, imagine if De Kooning were alive today and saw that. He was an immigrant who had to sneak his way into the United States on his 13th try. Then he lived through a depression as an artist! Then he navigated his way through the gallery scene with an academic education equivalent of the eighth grade. Imagine he sees the successful or selling artists today. He would pass out, either from laughter or rage. I do feel America has the propensity to properly value an artist. It is simply misguided. It will change over time, just as most fads do.

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Paul Weiner:
You’ve spoken about your perception of artists who use colors straight from the tube and pre-made canvas as making inferior work. Some artists and critics might critique these tools as being the impact of a quasi-capitalist art market where corporations create the tools artists use and corporate collections (e.g. Deutsche Bank, Progressive, Bank of America, and JPMorgan Chase) buy the resulting art. To what extent do you find the use of pre-made materials an ethical dilemma versus an aesthetic one?

David Phillips:
Well, of course there is a huge, huge beauty in a fresh tube of cadmium red, and of course there is nothing wrong with using that red straight out of the tube as long as the artist’s intentional vision justifies the usage. I suppose I was referring to the artists simply making art to sell. I do stand by the thesis that artists should create art as handmade as possible. This gives the artist control over shape, size, coarseness, etc, which, in turn, executes the artist’s vision more precisely. I remember watching the “Who The Fuck is Jackson Pollock?” documentary years ago. I remember by just watching the movie, which included many scholars, and thinking, “How the fuck do they not know that this is not his painting?” I could tell through a goddamn television screen. The pink in the painting was not his pink. The paint used was not enamel or anything close to what he used. The canvas wasn’t built by him. Look at the edges. The answer was in the materials, not the style.

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Paul Weiner:
Is your goal in painting to create artwork that clearly communicates your perception or is it to evoke a sublime reaction to yourself and your viewers?

David Phillips:
I don’t know how much of a goal I have with any painting. I try not to think about any particular person or client. This would certainly influence the outcome, and it gets back to the art versus commerce debate. I suppose the only goal would be to capture the feeling or essence of any particular object I am painting. I do not paint the apple. I paint what the apple taste like. I paint what would happen if the apple was pissed off or hurt. Of course, any painter would love to evoke a sublime reaction to a viewer. That is probably the best result!

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Paul Weiner:
Many abstract artists have struggled with creating titles, leading some to go so far as to use dates or numerical systems as titles. How do you go about titling a painting and how do you feel about the practice of artists who sign their paintings?

David Phillips:
When you are creating paintings at a very fast rate or high capacity, inevitably you run out of titles. Also, using dates or “Untitled” allows viewers to have their own relationships and create their own stories to a piece. Personally, I enjoy titling each piece, and I feel it is as important to the painting as the materials or subject. I totally get that not all artists create this way. I use the title like poetry. The intention is to only enhance the piece, which would strike all sorts of debate like “Why does the piece need enhancing?” A very simple answer to that would be that it is fun. I constantly write while I work, Sometimes just phrases, sometimes short stories, sometimes just word associations. I’ve found this helps with the frequency of ideas.

I typically do not sign my pieces on the front. My only rule for that is if it adds to the picture, I will sign it. However, a majority of the time, a signature would simply intrude on the composition I just spent 2 weeks or a month making. Therefore, I would never compromise the face of a picture.


Please view David Phillips’s work on his website and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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The Honey Hive Gallery: Local Talent in San Francisco

Looking for a young and fresh face in the San Francisco art scene? The Honey Hive Gallery displays local artists and helps emerging talent gain exposure while supporting the neighborhood’s burgeoning culture. Since it was founded in October of 2013, the space has hosted a variety of art shows, poetry readings, live music sets, movies, dances, and workshops.

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The best part of the gallery isn’t even the giant wasp painting guarding the entrance or the location right by the beach I’d like to be sitting on right now. What’s spectacular about the Honey Hive Gallery is that the management, led by Topher Knoll, is dedicated to the environment it exists in: the Outer Sunset District. Supporting local artists and communities is increasingly important as the art world is becoming dominated by super galleries and the patronage of the lucky few. Remodeled barred-over windows have turned into a welcoming art gallery and community gathering area in the Outer Sunset.

The Honey Hive Gallery is attracting attention from neighborhood residents and working from the ground up in an ethical way, the way that emerging art galleries should work. Entering the Honey Hive will leave you enveloped in breathing, tangible culture featuring accessible artists such as printmaker Myles Dunigan, oil painter Katie Steward, and illustrator Tony Papesh.

So, if you’re a San Franciscan looking to buy art, experience the local culture, or get a free date full of bad puns with your “honey,” stop by the Honey Hive Gallery. Upcoming events include live music January 10 and spoken word open mic nights on January 17 and 21 or get your hands dirty and RSVP for a screen printing class on January 25.

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Samuel Lopez and Portrait Photography

Samuel Lopez is a photographer living in New York City and working with film while developing his own prints. His work can also be found online.

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Paul Weiner:
How did you get into photography?

Samuel Lopez:
I grew up looking at the wonderful photos in Life, Look, and many well know newspapers during the late 60s and through the 70s. The images from Vietnam and other places fueled my interest. Photojournalism was my desire. I have always been an observer. I wanted to bring the world to everyone looking at my work.

Also, due to a set of circumstances, all of the photos from my mother’s life had been lost or destroyed. We only had one photo of her as a child and no photos of her mother, my grandmother. I wanted to preserve our family history by taking so many photos that, even if some got lost, there would always be plenty available for future generations.

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Paul Weiner:
Why do you prefer film photography to digital?

Samuel Lopez:
It is a personal preference. I love the entire process of making a photograph. Seeing the image come out on what used to be a blank piece of photo paper still fascinates me. I have always liked things I can touch and see. It goes along with my personality, also. I have always been a hands on, old-school type of guy. The process holds, for me, a certain therapeutic aspect. When I do prints I am in my own world. Knowing that I took an image from eye to camera, to film, then to print it and see it again before anyone else is, and always will be, magical for me.

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Paul Weiner:
Describe the sensation you get while developing your own prints.

Samuel Lopez:
When I go in for a printing session, I lock myself away for about 7 hours or until my chemicals are exhausted. I surround myself with all I need for that time. I even have a small refrigerator in my space for food and drink. I play my favorite music.

As I do each print it, takes me back to the exact moment I exposed the photo. I literally get a chill up and down the back of my neck when I see it first enlarged to the size I’ll be doing the print and secondly when the image comes out as it’s in the developing tray. There are times I’ve been moved to tears, not because I think I’ve created some masterpiece of photography but because, at times, the circumstances, the emotions, and feelings come rushing back to me as I’m reliving the moment all over again.

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Paul Weiner:
What are some challenges that you’ve found as a film photographer in the digital age?

Samuel Lopez:
I often feel a bit isolated. I’ve tried to network with other photographers, but because I work in film it’s like I speak a different language. The fact that I am not able to move into commercial work saddens me, but I realize it’s just the way the business is these days. I am also seeing more and more stores I visit for supplies making their film sections smaller and smaller with less choice for chemicals and paper. Archiving my work properly has become a challenge. My negatives and original Polaroid prints have to be filed away properly. I take great care keeping them dust and scratch free, as well as trying to control humidity and temperature. I recently moved from California to New York City, and I was terrified the entire time that my archive would meet some bad fate on the moving truck!

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Samuel Lopez:
Chemicals are becoming harder to find. Photo paper is becoming scarce also. The loss of Polaroid 600 film was a big loss for the photo community. Spare parts for my cameras when they need repair is getting very hard. Most of my cameras are from the 40’s to 50’s.

Paul Weiner:
Do you see yourself more as a photojournalist documenting the world around you or a fine art photographer?

Samuel Lopez:
Definitely a photojournalist documenting the world. Even when I do studio work, I prefer to work with models that can take a concept and move about freely within the idea as I document their journeys in the moment. I rarely use a tripod. I’m always in motion with my subjects.

Paul Weiner:
I can see how supplies must be limited nowadays. Are there any particular materials for film photography that you wish you could still find for sale somewhere?

Paul Weiner:
How do you find subjects for your photography?

Samuel Lopez:
I look on various model photographer sites, and, at times, I’ve put out open calls for free portraits for anyone willing to sit for me. Models will refer me to people they know that fit my work style, also. I will even ask someone I see that looks interesting on the street or subway to model for me. As a freelance photographer, I don’t have the budget yet to hire from agencies.

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Paul Weiner:
Many contemporary artists shy away from the male nude because of expectations and assumptions our society makes. Have you found it difficult photographing nude men, and have you ever received surprising feedback about male nude photography?

Samuel Lopez:
I have only found that finding male models has been difficult. Most are a bit more over-muscled for my choosing. As a former athlete, I formed an appreciation for both the male and female form. Therefore, the models I choose to work with are more lean and athletic, and I try to pose them in natural positions, also.

Photographing males, for me, is the same process as when I work with women. I try and represent the body as a whole, even in my abstract work. I haven’t had any surprising feedback so far. Mostly very receptive and positive.


Please view Samuel Lopez’s work online and “like” Critique Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/critiquecollective.

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