Joel Daniel Phillips will be the third awesome artist that Empty Kingdom is bringing down to Austin Texas for the ReCREATE:ATX show for this year’s SXSW! Normally armed with charcoal, I can only imagine what Joel will be bringing to the wall. Check out his interview for a peek into his inspiration, socially aware, candid, and well spoken, his interview is well written and well worth reading:
Please introduce yourself to us, are you left or right handed? What is your favorite kind of pasta and why?
My name is Joel Daniel Phillips and I’m a 23 year-old artist living and working in San Francisco. I make life-size portraits in charcoal and graphite.
I am actually ambidextrous, but I tend to use my right hand more than my left.
Probably any sort of rice noodles with red wine-infused tomato sauce.
How did you settle on charcoal as the main medium of expression? What about the human form, experience and being does charcoal help you capture that other media do not? What about the physical aspect of charcoal, what about it do you enjoy, do you find romantic?
I settled on charcoal during an off-campus semester in New York when a friend gave me a jar of leftover charcoal nubs. I was studying graphic design at the time and struggling to find traction in an open studio class, but once I picked up charcoal things seemed to slowly start to fall into place. The human form is a daunting task to render well – artists throughout history have obsessed over understanding its nuances. I have found charcoal to be a flexible medium that can capture minute details as well as hammer home startling contrasts, thus playing well intro capturing the most challenging subjects. I wouldn’t necessarily say that charcoal can do things that other mediums can’t, but more that I have fallen in love with a way of working that charcoal caters to: slow, methodical and meditative. That said, I have yet to see a medium that can make as beautiful of a rich, deep black as charcoal.
What do you think of your choice of charcoal, something simple but able to capture minute detail, smudge able but applicable to almost every surface, says about you?
My choice of medium says a lot of things about me, most directly my systematic approach to almost everything. Working large-scale in charcoal involves a very particular and orderly method, or the image very quickly becomes messy and unsalvageable. I find this process to be amazingly meditative. Secondly, I would say it speaks into my obsessive need to capture detail. As a portraitist, I drool over the lines and creases on a face and the folds in draped fabric. Rendering these is a painstaking but incredibly rewarding process that charcoal lends itself very well to.
In your series Les Dessins, you reference The Little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupery. How has this book affected you? How did it inspire you both for this series and as an artist? Of all the characters that the little prince encounters, who had the most impact on you?
The Little Prince is possibly one of the most delightful books I have ever encountered. At its root, the book examines the contrast between the ways children and adults see the world, particularly in areas of vocation and societal value. When I first read it, it seemed that characters the Little Prince encounters on his travels were archetypes for flaws in adult society. At the time, I was struggling emotionally with my need to chase after art and what seemed to me to be pressure from my family to step into a more traditional line of work (particularly one that with a more stable income). Les Dessins was me dealing with this tension, drawing myself and my family as the ‘flaws’ that Saint-Exupery captured in his characters. I chose a particular character for each of us who’s story seemed to encapsulate a bit of our personal struggles with vocation. My father is a lawyer, and my brother is following in his footsteps. My uncle however, is an artist. The series attempted to capture the tension between my father and uncle, and show my brother and I gravitating towards the juxtaposed poles of vocation that they represent. Happily, the series of drawings opened up an incredible conversation between me and my father, and we were able to come to a place of mutual understanding and respect at the end of it all. I’m not sure which character inspired me the most, however I chose to draw myself as the lamplighter. The lamplighter is an individual who is caught in an everlasting, Sisyphus-style need to follow through with his work, no matter how absurd. I saw myself and my need to make art in that absurdity.
Les Dessins (French for drawings), Faces Pt 1 and Richard are all simple, straightforward names for series. ‘No Regrets In Life’, however is neither so simple nor obvious, particularly when put into context that the series seems to be depicting the homeless. What is it you hope people to take away from this series? Is there something about the abandon with which the homeless operate that causes you to think them freer than the average citizen?
No Regrets In Life was actually originally going to be titled the rather boring and academic “Anonymity & Ambiguity”. Thankfully, I was convinced to change the title to No Regrets In Life, the text that emblazoned Kenny (one of the subjects) hats’. While not necessarily about homelessness per say, (not every subject I drew was actually homeless) the series was meant to explore the way we as a society do not know how to approach certain individuals, and thus tend to pass over them entirely. The series attempted to reverse this, making these individuals center stage. In them, I hoped that the anonymous would become celebrity, at least for a moment. While drawing this series I found that as a portraitist, I think I am most attracted to one quality in a subject: vulnerability. Most people when asked to pose for an image immediately begin to project a very curated and particular sense of how they want to be perceived. It is when someone truly lets me in to a deeper, more vulnerable part of themselves that I am able to create an image that is in any way worth digesting. This vulnerability is something that all of the subjects in No Regrets In Life shared, and I am incredibly grateful to them for allowing me to see that. As far as whether or not homeless people are generally freer or more vulnerable in this sense, I’m not sure whether I can make any sort of over-arching statement on the matter.
What attracted you to the idea of working with Empty Kingdom and HOPE? How does your personal code of ethics and ideology align with these two organizations? What do you hope to gain from your collaboration? What are you bringing to the table?
As an artist I believe that my role is to communicate what I see. Both HOPE and Empty Kingdom are organizations that facilitate this, doing so by supporting and showcasing artists around the world and allowing them to give back to their respective communities through their work. I chose to collaborate because I hope to be able to support both organizations by contributing my work. They do amazing things.
What do you have planned for your piece down at SXSW? What is the though behind it? How will working on a big wall be a change of pace from your normal work? What do you think will be the most challenging part? What are you most excited about?
My piece for SXSW is a life-size drawing of an amazing lady I met a month or so ago in a BART station. I’m not entirely sure what it is about her and her surroundings that drew me in, but I couldn’t help myself and needed to draw what I saw. It may seem a cop-out, but sometimes I work backwards towards concept, creating an image and digesting what it is that draws me in while I work. This piece seems to be one of those. Working on a wall will be very different from my normal practice – generally I work in the controlled confines of my studio where the somewhat delicate nature of charcoal on paper is possible. Perhaps harder to deal with is the timeline- the SXSW event is only a day long and a piece like this generally takes me 50-80 hours of solid drawing. To make this possible I will be finishing a large portion of the piece beforehand, bringing it to SXSW and finishing it during the event, and then wheat-pasting the image to the wall once finished. I think the bit about pasting 80 hours of work to a wall in one go is the most frightening, but the Buddhist in me is jumping at the challenge.