From Philadelphia, PA
Based in Philadelphia, PA
We interviewed incredible Phyllis about her art journey, nature of the inspiration, ways to experience art, questions to ask and much more
A: Please, tell us a bit more about yourself. What brought you into art?
P: Art is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a little kid. I decided to be an artist probably in first grade, and that feeling never left me. When I went to college, I was majoring in art and business but my father did not support that idea and I had to change course. I ended up taking a bit of a detour and majored in economics and minored in arts, worked as a bond analyst for 14 years, got my MBA, did the whole thing. But it felt like unrequited love - I’d go to work, have this big portfolio, I would take classes anywhere and everywhere. At one point, I just told myself that I couldn’t do it anymore. So, I went back to school and got my Masters in Fine Art from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and graduated in 2014. Then I was finally able to commit myself full-time to being an artist.
A: What inspires you the most?
P: My work has always been about connection. I’ve done many different series but the majority of my work history is figurative art. I wanted to capture those quiet moments, the spaces-in-between that we all experience.
Recently I’ve been focusing on connection to nature. In my latest work, I am bridging a connection to nature and wildlife with fantasized intimate passages. These collage paintings are playful depictions of my desire to become more connected to the forests, animals, and insects that inhabit them. It began when, like everyone in the pandemic and isolation, I turned to Netflix. I watched David Attenborough’s documentaries and not only did they truly inspire me, but it also showed me how absent I was in that connection. My desire for it then came out through my work.
A: Do you have any specific rituals while working(creating)?
P: My studio gets messy with a crazy amount of small paper clippings that end up on my table and floor (I find pieces all over the place). So I do a proper clean up before I start each new painting. It’s like cleansing my palette - I need to wipe everything down and sweep and vacuum so I feel like I’m starting each painting removed from the history of the previous one.
I also listen to audiobooks as I work. It used to be music or podcasts, but now it’s audiobooks. Once I discovered I could get audiobooks through my library app, there was no turning back.
A: What would you recommend to someone new to art (an artist or just an admirer), what to begin with?
P: That’s an interesting question. Someone who’s a new artist or a viewer? If the former, I would say, pay attention to what inspires you by looking at other artists, that’s what I did. It’s hard to figure out what you want to do. I used to really study other artists to see what inspired me the most and that was my starting point. I love the Bay Area artists (Richard Diebenkorn, David Park, among others) and would study their work. I wanted to understand what spoke to me and what elements made them successful. So new artists should spend time to get to know their own aesthetics and learning the methods needed to attain them. Another thing I would mention is to not worry about failing. It’s a very, very, very crucial part of the process, whether it’s a failed piece of work, rejection, etc. Failure is an integral part of any success.
If you want to only observe art, I’d recommend reading artist statements because they’re very enlightening. They give you an idea of what someone’s trying to do with their art - not only on the surface level but also what’s beneath it. Once you read about that, it can change the way you see someone’s work and add another dimension to it.
A: What are your top 3 adjectives related to art?
P: Art is provocative. visceral. And, for me, it’s uplifting.
A: The best angle to look at art is from ..?
P: I think what makes art fascinating is that there is no perfect angle. Maybe with some spatial works, like sculptures, there may be. But not in terms of a philosophical angle, because you get to interpret art. When you look at a piece of art, you can understand it in a multitude of ways. That’s what makes art so awesome.
A: The perfect phrase to start any conversation about art is:..?
P: What do you like about this piece? What captivates you?
A: Must-read books to help us talk about art (or do we even need them)?
P: I’m not sure anyone needs them, but I think they can be enlightening and helpful. I learned a lot from one of my art heroes, David Park. I read about his biography, A Painter’s Life, by Nancy Boas. He had a lot of pushback when he changed styles and his philosophy about needing to be true to yourself regardless of the current cultural taste. It helped me permit myself to be okay with doing what I want to do, even if it means making changes like switching genres, which can feel intimidating. I also read a book by Arthur C. Danto called What Art Is, which opened my mind to work that I didn’t know how to respond to. In art, you create in a vacuum and the work doesn’t feel complete until it’s out there in the world and there are other eyes on it. Most of the artists I know just want to do their work, but the “getting it out there” part trips them up. A book called The Smartest Guide by Ekaterina Popova and Alicia Puig is great for helping for career tips.
A: If you could change one thing in the art world - what would it be?
P: I think COVID changed a lot. Much of what I would have normally answered has already happened. Artists have become much more accessible to the general population. It always felt like galleries were the guards that controlled which artists would be allowed into the art world in a significant way. But social media and COVID removed a lot of those barriers, which is amazing. People now can do whatever they want, even without galleries. Of course, most of us still want to work with them, but even if you don’t, you can still make something big happen for yourself.
A: Please, share your favorite quote (not necessarily related to art).
I have a bunch of quotes on my bulletin board that I look at all the time. One of my favorites is from Thomas Edison who, upon being asked how he feels about the fact he had so many failures before he succeeded, responded: “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.”