Written By Devin Hardy
RAY PHILLIPS, Western Shine, 2022
Mixed Media on Canvas, 49” x 42”
The title of this exhibition came naturally from a conversation I had with Ray Phillips about a month ago. One of my observations about his source material was that it seemed all over the map, drawing on everything from Magritte to old Western movies to everyday objects.
“I like variety and all kinds of things because I get bored with one idea,” Phillips commented. There is a cheeky and amusing quality to much of his work and there is an accessibility to them which is a statement unto itself in today’s contemporary art climate.
“Sometimes I ask myself if I should I get more serious with my work but then I think ‘No, it makes it fun for me to do.’ It’s so easy to go to the dark side with war, bombs, government, rage against the machine, etc. but it’s hard to be clever,” Phillips said.
“When I think of my clients, I ask myself, ‘What is going to make them smile as a purchase and as an owned piece of work?’ I just don’t think people want to live with really dark things every day.
I think it also reflects my mood – things should be more whimsical, the opposite of what the news looks like right now. I guess I make what I want to see.”
Many of Phillips’ pieces feature characters and objects from old Western movies. “They’re nostalgic enough but they’re kind of hard core enough as well. They have a little edge to them. It does excite me, to turn this hokey western stuff into something more metal. It’s pretty easy to get cheesy. You gotta stop at cheesy.” Growing up in Texas, Phillips’ father was obsessed with old Westerns. “My dad was basically John Wayne - cowboy boots, flannels, the works. He owned the TV so all we ever watched was Western shows. Bonanza, Clint Eastwood, all that. At the time I didn’t like it but now I somehow have this attraction to that old school imagery.” His work speaks to a personal nostalgic history but also a collective one. Even though he draws from his own childhood memories, the work feels familiar and speaks to the culture of a by-gone era in America. “I’d just write down random thoughts that occurred to me about my childhood and often a piece came out of it. Like Popeye, I used to hate spinach as a kid and I would only eat Popeye spinach. Those things just stuck with me and show up often in my work.”
Phillips deftly navigates a sense of wistfulness with a sense of amusement, perhaps leaving the viewer lost in their own memories but likely joyful ones. The pieces feel like public reveries, splicing together the random contents of individual memory while also using imagery that an entire generation can relate to.
Phillips’ only studio essential is music. He refers to himself as “a bit old school” but has held onto his iPod because it inspires him to listen to a diverse array of music from which many of his ideas are derived. “I have over 37,000 songs, I can barely take a shower without music, I need it 24 hours a day. I am addicted to shuffle. I listen to everything. Anyone with talent - metal, weird jazz, punk, I love it all.” Each of his pieces are carefully constructed in his mind beforehand as they involve multiple layers of paint, screen prints and sometimes collaged elements. “I think in terms of layers. I don’t say this a lot because it sounds uncreative but it’s like building a house, you can’t just wing it.”
ADVICE & EGO
When asked what advice Phillips would give to aspiring artists, he said, “Ego is the biggest creative killer. I have to distance myself from ego and not get too attached to the work. If someone buys a piece and lights it on fire, they can have at it. In fact, send me a video because that would be kind of cool.” Like anything in life, Phillips believes that art is a practice, something you have to work hard at to get good at. He is constantly moving forward with new work and ideas. He struggles with hanging his own work in his house. All I want to take it down and fix it.”
“I hate when people say, ‘oh you were born with talent’. I’m like no man, I practice 7 hours a day 7 days a week. I was born with the ability to sit there and do it. Maybe born with creativity too, ideas just blow out of me. I don’t want to execute them all, but I just have ideas about everything.”
Phillips joined the Diehl Gallery roster in 2021. His work is available on our website or by commission through the gallery.