Friday, December 08, 2006

Art Space Talk: Alfred Phillips

I recently interviewed artist Alfred Phillips. Mr. Phillips has gained a lot of exposure even though he has only focused on fine art painting for a few years. He has won many awards and has also caused controversy that gained national attention.

Alfred's subjects range from vibrant landscapes to a series of Carnival Mask paintings; but, his energetic landscapes and beautiful still-lifes are resonating most with collectors. His Renaissance-style studies in light and shadows, like the haunting still-life "Eggplant Fruit," now in a private collection, testify to his mastery of that genre.

Phillips prefers painting with acrylics rather than oils which are too slow drying for his liking. According to Phillips, a work begins by quickly sketching ideas on paper relying on imagination, personal observation, memory, studio setups or photos taken for reference purposes. Depending on the complexity of the image, he may paint directly on the canvas without sketching; or, he may painstakingly draw the image in exact detail which is very labor intensive. He never uses projection. Many layers of mixed paint are used and blended until the desired color is achieved on canvas. A variety of brushes and strokes are applied to create texture that compliments the art.

Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "My earliest memories are of being called an artist, even in grade school. I have always thought about art and shaped my life around art."

Q. How has creating art shaped you professionally and personally?

A. "My humble beginnings made it necessary for me to earn a living, so I have had a professional career in advertising, from which I am now retired."

Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "Actually, since I started painting full time three years ago, I have become much more environmentally conscious and much of my work deals with nature. Also, I am gay, so there have been exhibits where I have painted specifically for a theme involving gay causes."

Q. What are your artistic influences? Has anyone inspired you?

A. "I motivate myself. I have had encouragement all my life, but I would draw or paint regardless. I need to."

Q. Tell me a little about your background. Are your past experiences reflected in the work you do today? If so, how?

A. "It is obvious I have a graphic design background when you look at my work. I can't help but think like a designer after over 30 years in that career."

Q.How long have you been a working artist?

A. "Just the last three years, since October 2003. I moved to Florida after retiring and rented a studio to paint full time."

Q. On average, how long does it take you create one piece?

A. "I spend about 20-40 hours on the more detailed paintings until they are completed, spending about five or six hours intensely working each day. After that kind of painting is done, I like to have fun and "play" with abstracts – or works that allow me to fling paint and loosen up."

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "I'm always in the mood to paint! Sometimes to the detriment of my other responsibilities. As far as rituals go, I like to have my I-Pod on and set it on "shuffle" because I like a variety of music. Scissor Sisters, Dixie Chicks, Peter Gabriel, whatever. Funny, but I am in pain if any of the other artists in the group I share space with (Tarpon River Art Centre) play music I can overhear."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "Gay men, thank god! Gay men with money! They "discovered" me and have been loyal and enthusiastic. I don't know why they like my work so much but they keep coming back."

Q. Discuss one of your pieces.What were you thinking when you created it?

A. "It's hard to choose one. I guess I will choose Madonna Of The Ribbon because I am proud of that painting and the response it has received. I created it as a donation for a friend, Chuck Williams, who is president of ArtsUnited, a gay and lesbian art group in Fort Lauderdale, FL, to raise money for The Children's Diagnostic & Treatment Center. The Center helps children and families of AIDS victims. Chuck Williams asked ArtsUnited artists to create and donate paintings using the red AIDS ribbon as a theme for an auction he was holding. All the proceeds benefitted the Children's Center. Painting Madonna Of The Ribbon was an emotional experience for me, because after doing research on the internet, I realized how unfairly the disease of AIDS was attacking black women, much more than their proportion in the general population. I used my skills as a graphic designer to come up with an icon that I thought would have impact, yet remain simple. I placed the ribbon over the head of a black woman, much like a shawl or scarf, while the woman tilts her head down in sadness and deep concern, yet with acceptance. The ribbon appears to be the trim of a garment such as a choir robe, or even a shroud. I made the background indistinct, with a "white light" surrounding the lady so that she looks angelic."

Q. What is your artistic process?

A. "It varies. Sometimes I have a clear image of what I want to paint, with all the sketches and set-ups prepared and ready to go, and other times I have no idea. But, I will never sit and stare at a blank canvas. I let loose and see what happens. It is amazing how some of my best work comes out that way. Sometimes I have used imagination alone with no reference, and other times I have copied my own photos meticulously, rearranging the composition to suit me. However, I never project the image onto the canvas. If I can't look at it and draw from what I see, I won't do it."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "I use acrylics almost exclusively because they are fast drying and suit my personality. I work really fast and intensely, and despise waiting for paint to dry. My blow dryer is right by my side at all times! I like working in thin layers, brushing on transparent colors many, many times to get the richest, deepest colors."

Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how has it helped your art career?

A. "I went to a four year art school on full scholarship – the Art Center School in Louisville, KY (now closed) – and graduated in 1969. It was not an accredited school until a few years after I left. I was an adequate academic student and probably could have gone to an accredited school, but getting a full scholarship to a school close by home was critical in my decision. Because I did well in design and illustration, my second year in school I was offered a part time job at a local advertising agency. That led to several years of working for agencies, and then to starting my own award-winning graphic design studio, which I closed upon retirement."

Q. What can you tell us about the art department that you attended?

A. "It was all art, all the time! Everything was "hands on" and creative. I loved it! There was painting, sculpting, design, tapestry, weaving, printmaking, etc. Everything but book-learning! I felt like I had been dropped into heaven. Classes started at seven in the morning and ended at ten that night. Somehow I managed to work part time and attend school full time, as well as keep up with multiple homework projects. Sleep was an afterthought."
Q. Where can we see more of your art?

A. "I have a web site but it is hopelessly out of date (, and you can see ten of my recent paintings on, as well as on the web site for Art Expressions Gallery ("

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "I am represented by Art Expressions Gallery in Fort Lauderdale ( I just ended a solo show at Art Expressions and am back to painting new works for a while."

Q. What galleries have you exhibited in?

A. "I have exhibited in many galleries and shows, including ArtServe, Broward Art Guild, Gallery Six, Mind's Eye Gallery, ArtsUnited, Stonewall Library, Boca Art Guild, Schacknow Gallery, Art Expressions Gallery, Tarpon River Art Centre, and others, all within the South Florida area. I plan to expand the area for showing my work in the near future."
Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "I'm the last person to ask about trends. I never know what's going on. People tell me realism is coming back and I hope so, because that would be good for me. Maybe I'm too focused on what I do because a lot of art is over my head and I don't have a clue what it means, and I probably should try to understand it."

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "If you don't live and breathe it, don't even start. You have to be dedicated and willing to work hard. There is a glamorous side to art, but the work comes first."

Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

A. "Oh boy, has it ever! I was embroiled in controversy after entering a piece in the Broward Art Guild's Controversy Exhibition in 2004. An attempt was made by a Broward County Commissioner to have my work removed from the exhibit due to it's sexual and political nature. I drew a cartoon of George Bush getting sodomized by an Arab Sheik, while Bush was splayed out on a barrel of oil, which was crushing soldiers and Iraqi citizens. The controversy kept growing every day, with local news coverage turning into national news, and eventually landing me on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I kept my cool, but there were threatening phone calls and mysterious silences on the answering machine, which kept me on alert status. I've become a big fan of the Dixie Chicks, empathizing with them to some degree."

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "You know, when I finish a painting, I am never completely satisfied and it is then I am at my most vulnerable. So, I would say accepting my limitations and plodding on with renewed hope past the rock-bottom of each painting is the toughest thing."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "I don't have any choice in the matter. I have to."

Q. Can we find your art on MYARTSPACE.COM?

A. "Yes, sign in "apsrick"."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "I'm in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Miami is really the big art scene in South Florida, but Fort Lauderdale is growing."

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "Absolutely. From the Controversy Exhibit mentioned earlier, to my environmental-pollution paintings, and my involvement with gay causes through ArtsUnited and Stonewall Library."

Q. Does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?

A. "Sometimes. I grew up in a Southern Baptist, very conservative home, which has turned me against organized religion forever. However, I don't mind using religious icons in my work, including crosses, madonnas, priests, and angels. I believe in being spiritual and in being a good person, and that the ten commandments are good rules to follow. It's just using the bible selectively for your own biases that turns me off. I have attempted to paint scenes from painful experiences in my childhood that include my alcoholic father and controlling mother, but I literally can't complete them."

Q. Does your cultural background play a part in your work?

A. "Growing up in a rural farm community has influenced my interest in nature as a continuing subject. I'm not that interested in urban scenes or city life for my paintings, even though I live in a very urban area."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "When I first started painting full time three years ago, entering competitions and winning awards was all-consuming. I needed the approval and acceptance of judges and critics, and received more than my fair share of awards. That is very gratifying and I'm glad I did that, but now I am painting what I want to for myself. I feel like I'm just an ordinary person stumbling around for enlightenment most of the time, waiting for magic to happen."

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Alfred Phillips. Feel free to critique or discuss his work. You can view Mr. Phillips current work by doing a search for apsrick on the main site:

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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