Artist Spotlight: Audrey Phillips April 17 2020
Have you always been an abstract painter?
My art practice started quite by accident—a collision of tragedy and creative healing. In 2000, I started painting faces that were somewhat representational but mostly raw, darkly expressive and strangely abstracted. This work sprang forth from a deep loss. In my search to heal, my newly formed art practice became a visual healing process. After this ten-year journey, I started painting abstractly. This abstract work allowed me to tap into the internal energy I had learned to access through my yoga and meditation practice that also started in the year 2000.
How has growing up in the South influenced your work?
I was born in rural Mississippi, where I heard stories of lynchings and a traveling electric chair. These truths permeated my experiences, making a heavy impression on me before my family moved to the Florida Panhandle.
The move from the dark stories of Mississippi to the white sand beaches of Florida felt like walking into a bright light— a better place. These extremes of light and dark, both within my family and these two Southern states, have colored my vision of the world and greatly influenced my art-making.
What artists have had a strong influence on your style or art practice and why?
Joan Mitchell for her fearlessness both in her paintings and holding her own in the male-dominated New York Abstract Expressionist era of the 1950s. When I see a Joan Mitchell original, I experience her undeniable strength. I feel her paintings were made for her and from her, never for a gallery or person outside of herself. She held true to expressing what was coursing through her body.
Cecily Brown for her ability to inspire abstract painters to work life into paintings. She often paints the human figure, yet she abstracts them in a way that takes the viewer on a visual hunt inside her paintings. Once inside, you question the mysterious space between the real and the abstract and see glimpses of how her mind works.
Willem de Kooning for the masterful way he deconstructs the surface of the canvas with his bold, expressive marks that gush with color and texture.
Image Above: Audrey Phillips standing in front of a painting by Joan Mitchell.
Where do you find inspiration when you are beginning a new piece? Do you have an idea in mind when you begin or do you work more intuitively, figuring it out as you go?
I rarely have a visual inspiration when I start a new piece. Instead of an inspiration, it’s more of an intention. I stand in front of the white canvas and know I’m embarking on a mysterious journey. My joy from painting comes from embracing the unknown and building a relationship with the painting.
It’s much like a real-life relationship. It starts off with a clean slate and a pure explosive spark that ignites the canvas. I know from that point on, it’ll never be the same. I continue creating a unique language that requires looking and listening, similar to a call and response. Each layer adds depth and meaning. Each layer adds conflict, chaos and confusion. As I move deeper into the process, the looking and listening continues at a slower pace, with each move challenging me to find a way back to a place of balance.
Would you provide additional insight into the two diptychs that we have on display at the gallery and on our website, artsondouglas.net?
Both of these paintings illustrate what an impact the ocean had on me growing up in the Florida Panhandle. As a family, we spent most weekends on the boat, fishing or camping overnight on a nearby island. The water in the Panhandle region of Florida is a beautiful blue that morphs into an emerald green along the coastline. The visceral memory of that coastline will always be with me.
Both of these pieces are diptychs. Can you explain why you choose this format for some of your paintings and discuss some of the challenges and/or benefits of working this way?
For me, the diptych represents the duality of life—the yin and yang, the dark and the light, the ego and the soul. Our challenge in this life is to transcend duality beyond the place of right and wrong/us and them and become one with our consciousness.
Painting two separate pieces presents this challenge to me in a visual way. Often, one side may be a chaotic mess, while the other side may feel fully finished. At this stage, I’m challenged to give in and allow the one to stand on its own, simply for instant gratification. As in life, the work is remaining true to the intention, working both sides to bring them to a place of union.
In your artist statement, you explain that you began painting to help you work through a dark time in your life. In this uncertain time, do you have any advice for others about how creative activities can be therapeutic?
Dark vs light - these are equal energies yet how we use them can change the direction of our lives.
Our human reaction to darkness is to resist it and push it away. My advice is to observe the darkness and purposely channel that energy into your creative work. History has proven that powerful and beautiful art has been created from frightening events. As artists, we have the power to allow despair to come through us, and in doing so, create art and transform that darkness into light.
What are you working on now?
I have a few paintings I am working on. Two that feel fairly complete. And a couple of others still in process.
I am also working on a COVID-19 journal. I feel it's an important time to capture my feelings—as a way to look back and see what came through me, but also as a healing exercise to process my emotions.
Image Above: Work in Progress, 40 x 60 inches
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