THE SIX FOOT GALLERY INTERVIEW: Phillit Purrman (Awakenings)

Six Foot Gallery is delighted to present its annual spring show, Awakenings, featuring twenty-seven artists working in a diverse range of mediums and disciplines including sculpture, soundscapes, textiles, collage, video, woodturning, jewellery, photography, screenprinting, performance, and painting.

Hello Phillit! To start, what advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?
I am myself just starting out. But if there is one thing I’ve come to realize over the past year it is that the greatest gift you can give yourself as an artist is your own commitment to what you chose to do.

We live in a world where it is very easy to be thrown into doubt. To wonder if you shouldn’t be pursuing a more secure, ‘traditional’ career-path instead? If you’re taking too much of a risk? If the competition is just that much better than you? Why haven’t there been any big solo-exhibitions yet? Will you ever be recognized? etc. It’s easy to get sucked down a hole. But at the end of the day, when you sit down in front of your canvas, at peace and in the moment and feeling that this is what you’ve been put in the world to do. You come to realize what a blessing you’ve been given. Don’t hold back, and don’t let yourself get swamped by doubts. Life is short, and you deserve your own commitment. 

What emotions or reactions do you hope viewers experience when they see your artwork?
My work is all about being sensitive to the connection of our bodies to our minds, hearts, spirits and soul(s). So often the body tends to get relegated to transport or a surface we project our own wishes and desires onto. Yet I personally find that almost everything I feel, think and experience translates into direct physical sensation, from awe to grief, joy to despair, rage to peace. Our bodies are also political, bound up and reflective of ever shifting social realities, and they can be tools that directly interact with these realities. Recently, I’ve used my fingers to pick up a pen and sketch out a political doodle reflecting on the situation in Palestine and how I feel my German-ess relates to it. That was a moment of political physicality. So when people look at my artwork, I hope they have a physical experience in return – maybe they look at ‘Gut Feeling’ and have a sensation in their gut in response, a reminder that their own gut feeling exists. Or they take a moment of deliberation on how their own bodies are bound up in this world. 

What do you do to keep motivated and interested in your work?
I have found that watching short documentaries about other artists and what inspired and motivated them really pushes my own creative drive. The channel ‘The Art Tourist’ on YouTube is one of my favourites right now – their ‘About the Artist’ series are short, succinct and often introduce me to artists I’d never heard of before. You could say hearing about others’ inspiration, is inspiration to me in itself. I love thinking about the moment of creation and how it feels different to everybody.

How do you typically approach your creative process from initial inspiration to the completion of your artwork?
So mainly I have an idea for a painting, a sensation, thought or emotion that translates itself into an image in my head. Then I go hunting for references. At the moment that mainly involves me, my camera and a lot of lamps and candles alone in my room – I’m very interested in anatomy, light and shadow on a technical level and I’m just the easiest accessible model. (I would so love to paint other bodies though – please hit me up if you read this and are interested!). Then I pick colours – that’s the best part and I enjoy it so much. I could spend hours in an art store hunting for the right ones. And then I just start – the final image always ends up looking different than the initial idea in my head, especially as one painting takes me a few weeks. The image often reflects my emotional and mental process throughout that time. Each piece becomes a reflection of a little change within myself, or the change that I observe in the world throughout. 

Will your next project be a continuation of your current style or are you experimenting with something different? Can you share a glimpse of your next project?
I have been thinking a lot about the political and radical energies within art. I believe artistic expression is essential to democratic citizenship. I am also often unsure whether concepts like ‘death of the author/artists’ can apply to political art – doesn’t who we are and where we come from, our race, gender, sexuality, the experiences we have enjoyed and been deprived of because of it, inform which issues we are best suited to take up voice in which ways? I don’t have definitive answers, but I do wonder about it a lot – and in response I’ve been digging around in my own backyard quite a lot. Right now what is happening in Palestine, the unspeakable situation in Gaza, and Germany’s disgraceful response to it is twisting my stomach every day. I am German and have found myself very disillusioned about notions of German culture of remembrance, ideas of generational guilt and ancestral responsibility. I’ve been putting these feelings and thoughts into illustrations that are very different from what I normally do, but that I’m quite proud of. #freepalestine

Are there any upcoming events or additional information you would like the audience to know?
This July I will be part of the Wild Islands artist residency with Sail Britain, exploring uninhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides and the intersection between art and ecology, environmental work and remote, wild places. Through painting maps and charts, I want to challenge ideas of wildness and remoteness, suggesting that these islands might not be remote or wild at all, but should be reinstalled as the centre of their own cosmos. The aim is to challenge the viewer to ask themselves not only who and what defines what is ‘wild’ and ‘remote’, but also what being deemed to be these things means for any given (is)land. This is urgent, especially in connection to how we do ecological work with places that are ‘wild’, how we think environmentally about them and how we incorporate them into our planning as we face a future of climate crisis and de-colonial progress.

If this sounds interesting to you, please follow me on Instagram. More to come soon 😊

You can find out more about Philliton Instagram @phillitwionasophie Awakenings runs at the gallery until Friday 24th May.

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