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Stories from the Road: Phill Singer: “Painting is as close to mediation as I get”

Phill Singer is an accomplished surrealist artist, who has won numerous awards, including Best in Show two years in a row at the Frederick Fine Arts Festival, where I was able to talk to him. This is his twentieth year into his five-year plan to “do some art shows, become a big art star, and be in galleries”. He seems to have achieved all his goals but continues to work on evolving himself, his art, and attempting to create balance between the artist and the commercial. All artists struggle with wearing the business hat and their artistic side and caught in a dilemma of staying true to their work and being competitive in a niche market, it’s a tough trick.

As a young artist, Phill chased the market instead of being true to himself. Guessing on what would sell instead of painting what he loved. His advise to his younger self is “paint what you love, not what you think will be popular.” It’s difficult advice to follow because as an artist you need a customer base that loves your work in order to survive in this business. Phill has seen firsthand several good artists who stayed true to themselves but were commercial unsuccessful. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow” and he is grateful for the “two or three” themes that have struck a chord with his clients.

About 15 years ago, Phill began to evolve. His early paintings incorporated many animals, considered as funny and cute, great to hang in a kid’s bedroom. Now, by shifting the tone to a more serious and mysterious motif, his art is hung in the public space vs. the private space. He hasn’t changed what he loves to paint but has refined his ability to deliver a more sophisticated message.

His pieces still start with an animal, and he will draw it 1000 times until it is up to his standard. Once the idea of the subject matter germinates - “the process starts as a rough thumbnail sketch which helps the idea to take shape.” He shoots his own photo reference and searches through books and archives for pictures and drawings to help. The drawing alone can take up to a week. Then he takes that creature and “paints visions of a world where the law of physics and nature bend to the will and imagination. Elements such as Earth and Water overlap and creates its own alter reality.”

The finished drawing is then completed and transferred to the canvas. It is a slow and tedious process but with a focus on creating his best work, there will be limits to the amount of originals he can bring to the shows.

Some of Phil’s new pieces are inspired from physical objects. As he states “ I have always gotten inspiration from a million different sources, photos, other artist and the random objects of life. “ Phil gets the extra benefit of Zen, “Painting is as close to mediation as I get”.

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