Art & Culture in Chicago

The least pretentious pretentious art blog

Interview with John Phillips, artist and social butterfly

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Q: How would you describe yourself?

A: I walk both sides of the fence. good boy, bad boy. Sincere & transgressive.  I’m a polarity.
Q:  How would you describe your work?
A: A tug of war between indulgence and intelligence.  And that pretty much sums me up.

 Q: Do you have a favorite artist?
A: Manet and Naumann
Q: Do you have a favorite movie?
A: Babydoll & Night of the Hunter
Q: Do you have a favorite book?
A: (author) Nabokov.  I love “Lolita.” The idea of a sophisticated outsider observing America.
Q: Do you have a favorite musician?
A: Ike Turner
Q: How did you first become interested in art?
A: From young artists I met when I was a freshman in college (for premed)
Q: Did you always want to be an artist?
A: no, I switched to art when I was a junior in undergrad
Q: Is your family supportive of your decision?
A: no… and yes.  They didn’t stop paying for college
Q: If you were not an artist, what would you do?
A: genetics… DNA research
Q: How do you make money?
A: Many ways.  I worked in construction for 15 years.  All through college.  That’s how I paid for grad school.  I quit that in ’86 or ’87. (except for working on my own place) I worked for a company that did historic architecture.  Art sales (at best) have provided about 30% of my annual income.  Now I make money mostly from teaching.  I used to make a little money from DJ-ing but now I prefer to DJ for beer so I can be more autonomous.
Q: Does teaching affect your artwork?
A: It’s affected my enthusiasm for being a member of the social (art) world.  In the early 90’s my gallery closed.  It was a great gallery.  I went into a deep depression.  I was discovered by a group of SAIC students… (one of them became my “fan”) and they encouraged me to start teaching.  I realized that there is so little going on in Chicago in the art world that you need to be affiliated with an institution to be part of it.  Part of a family.
Q: Why do you make art?
A: I like the nature of the enquiry.  And you’re not beholden to anyone else, you’re totally autonomous as an artist and that’s what I like about it.  The independence.  That’s just a part of it, 2 huge factors.  I have almost no respect for authority.  I have the right emotional and intellectual makeup to be an artist.  There are aspects of my work that contain certain questions I’ve been interested in since I was a kid, in terms of putting together a visual event.  In grade school I drew big sailing boats.  I liked the abstract, geometric element.  I liked the problem solving aspect of geometry.  With painting, I like that you can be clear and specific with the language.
Q: Why do you use the medium(s) you use?
A: (painting, as opposed to film, etc..) because I don’t have to ask favors to get a project done.
Q: How do you choose titles?
A: Some come from my record collection, because I have groups of words that very few people have access to.  The titles are esoteric.  They have personal meaning.  They allow me to tip my hand in terms of attitude.
Q: How do you feel about the art world?
A: Good question. On a certain level, for many people the art world can be a place of frustration.  Everyone wants more attention than they’ve gotten.  At this stage in my life I’ve become more comfortable in the art world and I’ve re-defined happiness in terms of success.  My best work is ahead of me.  I’m going to have a long career rather than be an art star.  There’s too many other things to worry about that the nonsense of art world politics.
Q: How long have you been showing work?
A: since 1980
Q: Does living in Chicago affect your process and your work?
A: Yes.  It makes me dumber and lazier.  Compared to had I remained in New York.
Q: Is Chicago your first choice?
A: I’m learning to live with it.  And I own major real estate.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: The University of Colorado for undergrad and SAIC for grad school.  I hated SAIC though so I transferred to the Whitney museum independent study program.
Q: What are the most important things you learned in art school?
A: dialectics.  And that wasn’t at SAIC.
Q: Do you think art school was a good move?
A: well, I wouldn’t have done it any other way.  I’m glad I did liberal arts for undergrad first.  But art school was fairly necessary.
Q: Are you glad you’re an artist?
A: I feel very lucky.
Q: How do you spend your free time?
A: Hedonistically.  And I’m a closet jock.  I play on a pretty hardcore softball league.
Q: Do you have a strict “studio schedule”?
A: no, I’m very bad.
Q: Is your studio in/near your living space?
A: downstairs
Q: How often do you work on art?
A: Not often enough.  I tend to concentrate when I have a show.  Drawing and planning are much more regular but painting comes and goes.  The kind of work I make partly dictates how I make it.
Q: What is your production process?
A: Lots of drawing.  Lots of editing.  Then, I hire myself to produce the painting I planned.  The biggest question is color and how the paint is applied.  How to get it from the left side to the right side.
Q: Where is your art going?
A: …… straight to the top?  To more museums hopefully.
Q: What’s wrong with the world?
A: not enough empathy.
Q: Who are you voting for?
A: (although it’s probably obvious) Obama.  My wife has been working for the hotline and we registered new voters in Indiana.


Written by Kelly Reaves

October 2, 2008 at 6:49 am

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