One Piece of Art 2: Joel Daniel Phillips

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Joel Daniel Phillips, whom we interviewed in June, was in to Taos, New Mexico for the month of June for an artist residence to prepare for his upcoming solo show, “I Am Another Yourself” with the Hashimoto Contemporary Gallery.  The show begins in September 6th and runs to the 27th. The opening reception is 6-9pm September 6th so if you’re in The City check it out!

Previously featured:
June 2014
June 2014
March 2013
September 2012

 

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MONDAY JULY 21st, 2014

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How did today begin? Do you find it hard to get out of bed? Do you set an alarm?

Today started slow, I crawled out of bed and wasn’t functional till I started sipping my first cup of coffee. I’ve been finding it hard to get up recently, snoozing my alarm clock way too easily. I haven’t been sleeping well this week – there is a rather gregarious skunk that keeps waking me up at night, literally scratching at my back door at 3AM. (true story). In fact, 5 minutes ago I was outside having a cigarette when the arrogant little bugger strutted out of the dark not 6 feet away. I scared him away this time, but something tells me I may end up getting the raw end of one of these encounters.

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How do you set up your workspace? Do you have any ritual associated with your art? Is there anything you have to do before you begin?

The set up changes from piece to piece, depending on the size of the work. For medium to smaller sized works like this one I work on an easel with my reference computer set up to my left. I actually built a transparent drawing surface out of plexiglass so I can have light coming through the back, which allows me to get a better feel as I’m working for what the final framed image will look like.

I have a few little rituals. Most of them involve preparing for the day in some manner, generally in a very particular order. For example, I always do my dishes in the morning, cleaning up the remnants in my studio from the day before. I’m not really sure why I’ve settled into this sort of backward approach, but it feels right to start the day with a clean studio and no chores on the agenda. Another
ritual recently has been listening to Performance Today on NPR from 9:00 to 11:00 – starting out with some quality classical tunes helps get the day started right.

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TUESDAY JULY 22nd, 2014

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Have you cleaned the residence yet? Or is that done for you? How messy are you? How much mess will you tolerate?

I’ve cleaned the residence a couple times, mostly only really getting down to it when there are guests coming. It isn’t cleaned for me, but I tend to be fairly organized so I don’t let it get too bad. At the moment it does need a good vacuuming, however.

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How many days do you dedicate to each layer of vellum? Do you know what you intend to illustrate on each separate piece? How have you chosen or will you chose to break the image into smaller pieces?

I try not to set any sort of definite timeline on how long each layer will take. I finished the first layer in the first day, and I happen to be mostly done with layer two at the end of day 2, but that’s more coincidence than anything. One of the goals with the vellum works is for me to let go of the rational side of the process a bit and allow my subconscious to guide the making. In that vein, I’ve been very purposefully trying not to plan out what bit goes on what layer, except for a few sections that I definitely want to be on the final/outermost layer. Much of what I want to address in these works is the organic, faulty beauty of memory. I’m finding that this is much stronger the more I force myself to step back from the process and allow my whims to dictate what parts are drawn on what layer.

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WEDNESDAY JULY 23rd, 2014

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Do you take a lunch? How do you break up your day?

I forgot to take a lunch today, and had an earlyish dinner around 5. I seem to forget to eat often during the middle of the day recently. Breaking up the day isn’t particularly regular, but I generally try to work straight from 9am till 1pm, take a
smoke break, and then keep cruising till I am distracted enough by a need for dinner/lunch to make something. For the past few months, after that it’s been back to the easel until 8 or 9 or so, and it’s then time for another break and
maybe a walk.

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How did you come up with the idea for overlaying several pieces over one another? Why did you choose vellum as the medium?

I’m not really sure where the initial idea came from. I’d been thinking for a while about my process in general, and how at the root my goal is to capture a true sense of my subjects’ identities. I realized our perception of other individuals isn’t
necessarily a holistic and complete understanding. Rather, our sense of other people is based on multiple distinct experiences that we have with said individual. Perhaps more fascinatingly, these experiences are tied into a haze of temporality. At any given moment we might feel like we have an understanding of who someone else is, but this picture is really a series of glimpses fading backwards into time that slowly build an understanding. I wanted to find a way to explore this sort of temporality and organic insubstantiality through my process, so I began doing the drawings on multiple layers of vellum. I chose vellum because its imperfect transparency seemed to mirror the way each new experience simultaneously adds to and obscures our the ones before as time passes.

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THURSDAY JULY 24th, 2014

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Do you prefer daylight or night for working? When are you most productive?

Generally I’ve always been night person. However, since coming to Taos it’s seemed that my most productive working hour have been the first 3rd or so of the day. The afternoon tends to be slower, and then I find my rhythm again around 8 or 9. I haven’t really figured out why this is the case, but I’ve learned to allow my body to figure out it’s own rhythm in this regard and not worry too much about it.

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What parts of the subject are you obscuring? What parts will be on the top layer? Does it change from piece to piece? Do you make a specific effort to obscure separate parts and reveal others?

Other than a few particulars that I want to draw attention to, I try not to plan out beforehand what I want to be on any particular layer. In this drawing, I wanted to viewer to be able to focus on the subjects right eye the most, so I knew at the
beginning that I would leave that till the top layer. The rest of the decisions were made more on intuition than industrious planning on my part. I’m trying to force myself to allow my subconscious to take a more active part in the decision making on these works, which has been bringing back a wonderfully enjoyable sense of anticipation and mystery to my working process. I really don’t have any idea what the final piece will look like at the beginning, and that’s part of what fascinates me about this particular way of drawing.

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FRIDAY JULY 25th, 2014

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How many hours do you work in a day? When you break for dinner and what do you eat?

I try to work at least 10 hours a day, and often as much as 12 or 14 if I can. While I’ve been at this residency in New Mexico I’ve been averaging 12 to 14, which has been wonderful. I look at the time to make work as a gift, having not so long ago been in a position where I could only work on what I wanted to at night and on weekends.
Dinner breaks happen around 5 or so as I tend to skip lunch. As far as what I eat, that is all over the place. Anything that is relatively cheap and easy to cook, generally.

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What part are you working on today? What has been your favorite part? Will you choose to rearrange the vellum if you illustrate a part that you are particularly fond of that happens to be on a deeper layer?

Today I worked on the bottom part of the drawing, which consisted mostly of the folds of fabric on Spaceman’s upper chest and his beard. My favorite part thus far was probably his eyes. I love drawing eyes and could nerd out about the idiosyncrasies of expression that come from eyeballs all day long.
As far as rearranging goes, that’s part of the joy and frustration of this particular process. Because I have to apply fixative to each layer before I can move on to the next, early decisions are more or less permanent. I can always go back in
and add to/darken a bit of an under layer, but since I can’t erase it I’m more or less stuck with what I settled on being in each layer as I went along. High stakes gambling, as it were.

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SATURDAY JULY 26th, 2014

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What do you do when you’re finished at the end of the day?

Sleep. Haha, mostly I work up until I go to bed – although I generally have a smoke and maybe read for a few minutes if my eyes are up for the task.

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At what point, if any, do you start feeling a connection to the person you are drawing? Before? During? After? Do you ever feel a hint of regret when you hand off your pieces to be sold? Of all your work, do you have a favorite piece? Or a piece you’re most proud of?

The connection tends to happen somewhere in the process of physically drawing the subject. I often don’t know my subjects particularly well when I start drawing, as the original interaction may have been as simple as a brief conversation. However I find that I always feel deeply connected to the individual after finishing a piece. As far as what particular moment this happens in, that’s harder to answer. I probably start to connect the most deeply when working on the parts of the subject that show the most emotion – eyes, hands, lips, forehead, etc.

Sometimes I do regret it, but having work never come back once I hand it to a gallery is a relatively new thing so I think I’m also simply happy to have collectors connect enough to what I make that they purchase the work that I don’t worry about it too much. The moment of regret tends to happen a bit later when I look back at images of the work and wonder where in the world it is now and what it looks like in it’s new space.

That’s like asking a mother to pick her favorite child! My favorite works are always changing, and I might feel differently in 5 minutes. At the moment however, I’d say one of my favorites is a commission I finished earlier this year for a collector in Ohio titled ‘Nate | Buzzard Luck’. Nate has become a good friend of mine and I’ve drawn him 3 or 4 times at this point. I felt that the image captured the nervous tension between melancholy and spontaneous joy that he often exudes, and I was really happy about the final product.

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