How did your artistic journey start, Phillit?
I started picking up a pencil routinely when I was 23. At the time I was struggling heavily with mental health and found that writing down what haunted me helped me with this. Written word changed quickly into pages and pages of sketches, illustrations, little paintings and collages. Even though kind of upsetting to look at today, some of these notebooks remain my favourite artworks of mine. That’s how I started. From there, making art quickly became essential to my happiness and health. Today, it has become less a coping mechanism and more something that is central to my sense of self. It connects me to any given moment more than anything else, and I couldn’t live without it.
How did you arrive at the theme of your work?
I spent many important and formative years of my life almost entirely trapped in my head, disconnected from what was going on around me and from myself. I isolated myself extremely in my youth. Even today I sometimes I struggle with a compulsion to lock myself away as it were. And coming into contact with the world is very much a physical experience for me. And of course there are the most immediate sensual experiences – food, sport, sex etc. But what preoccupies me more are the broader implications of physical existence. Making a home through connection of body and place. Living erotically and intensely through everyday physical experience. Recognizing my body as this single strange notch in space-time within which and through which I can feel and channel my experience of life, of earthly matters and those that transcend them.
Can you walk us through your creative process?
At the moment I’m a bit obsessed with light and shadow and how those interplay with body language and facial expressions. Most of the time, any idea I have for a painting is sparked by random snapshots of friends (or that friends take of me), catching them in an expressive moment of body language or a cool angle of light. From there on, I pick my colours and don’t really think further about any final image. I also spent ages over a single painting. So they are less reflections of a particular moment of emotion or thought or a single specific idea. They are more concentrations of whole evolutions of experiences, like those described above. So basically, my process is just pretty much ‘going with the flow’.
How has your practice changed over time?
On a practical level, my style used to be much more illustrative. I mainly did small-scale things with felt-tip and fine liner. Now I’ve changed to canvas board, acrylics and coloured pencils. I discovered that the latter ones are oil-based, and I can just dip them in water to create a much denser, more blended look while still having all the control over fine details a sharpened pencil gives me. I guess today I’m much less focused on outlining and much more interested in what’s happening between the lines. But when it comes to a creative process, I don’t feel its changed much over the years. I still just do what I feel like doing, experiment and see what happens. Maybe that’s pretty much a summary of being self-taught.
How do you overcome creative blocks?
Hm, I don’t really feel like I ‘overcome’ them so much as let them happen and pass. I don’t really perceive them as ‘blocks’. If I don’t feel like painting, then I don’t. If I don’t have any ideas, its not fun anyway and might as well do something else. I didn’t go to art school, I didn’t study art in any way, until very recently I didn’t even really think of myself as an ‘artist’. There is no aim or end to me creating art, the means are the end. It is its own purpose. So I never really feel pressured about it, and therefore rarely blocked. Maybe this is why art is so central to my life – with everything else, I’m not so great at not being stressed about it.
Who influences you? Which other artists work do you love?
This question intimidates me a bit, because I can’t really throw any names around. When it comes to style, I’ll always love and probably be inspired by anything art nouveau and art deco. That’s the tradition my grandmother raised me in. So there’s of course names like Klimt, Mucha, Franz von Stuck. Most things impressionism, and really landscapes of any kind. Last year there was an exhibition of John Henry Lorimer’s paintings in Edinburgh, which consisted mostly of posh people living 150 years ago standing in front of windows in their living rooms. I guess it wasn’t the most exciting, progressive or polarizing exhibition I’d ever seen, but it was the everyday-peacefulness of the moments depicted that drew me in, and I still think of it a lot.
On the other hand, anything graphic or illustrative I will always love. I love it mostly for the way it often incorporates surrealism and fantasy to communicate its ideas and messages. There is a childrens’ book I’ve seen recently, ‘The Rhythm of the Rain’ by Grahame Baker-Smith which’s illustrations I adore. On social media, there are so many really talented illustrators from all over the world who have this fantastic grip on playing with surrealism and fantasy. Since I don’t have any social media anymore, I can’t name any names right now, but just having a browse is worth it!
What advice would you give to artists who are just starting out?
Since I consider myself an artist who is just starting out, this is hard to answer. All I can say is that what is working for me is making sure that I’m not financially dependent on it, and that I do what I do mostly for myself and not for the expectations of others.
See Phillit’s work at our Summer Show, running at Six Foot Gallery until 6th July 2023.