Extreme artist, Philip Gray, who was a guest artist at iBAMChicago2009, has accepted our invitation to be our featured 2017 artist, and to receive the iBAM! Award for outstanding contributions to the Visual Arts.
Below is a question and answer session with Philip:
Q: Phil the first thing I want to ask you is... You’re used to acclaim as an artist but how does it feel to be the subject of a major new book, which says some very nice things about you!?
A: I guess it feels a little strange to hold a book that holds so much of my life. It’s exciting to see all my journeys this far recorded onto page and as for saying nice things about me, what can I say! “Glad I didn’t write them”! but the inspirations I wrote relative to my work I hope will be inspirational to others.
Q: Well congratulations – the book is wonderful and gives us a real insight into your life and work, but not everyone will have had a chance to read it yet! – so, perhaps, we could chat a bit about your background. What first led you into painting? Was there a time in your life when you just knew you wanted to be an artist?
A: From the age of 5 I found that I was drawn to the pencil and told my parents that one day when I was grown up I was going to be an artist. Now that I’m an artist I’m still waiting for the day that I’m grown up! But in my early years I was inspired by my next door neighbour who later became the founder of the prestigious school of art in Dublin.
Q: What finally made you decide to change your career and become a full time artist?
A: I had been a navy diver for 17 years, part of a small operating unit where we were sent on many exciting yet sometimes dangerous operations and it was looking like the younger guys were going to get all the action and I was going to have more of an operational desk job. In addition I decided that my art was going to be for the rest of my life and I believe that when opportunities presented itself you should throw caution to the wind and follow your dreams.
Q: How do you set about beginning a painting. Photographs? Sketches? Imagination?
A: If I am on location in a extreme environment I have to organize my materials and then just start painting, during which time the painting starts to speak to me and something just appears so it’s the inspiration from the surroundings and the painting combined that lead me. In the case of working in my studio I empty my head and put music playing quite loud and just start and see what happens. It is more important that I work with the painting in total harmony together.
Q: What is the most beautiful place you have ever painted?
A: I have painted in many beautiful places with stunning backdrops but I would say possibly either when I was under the water painting or on my trip to Borneo’s rainforest.
Q: Would you describe yourself as a romantic?
A: I think every artist has to be, I’m in love with life, is that romantic?
Q: Do you have a favourite piece of art you've done?
A: Sounds corny, but it’s the truth; my favourite piece is the piece that I work on today, every new painting is a new beginning.
Q: Which artists do you most admire and have they influenced your work in any way?
A: I admire many artists for many different reasons. I don't pick an artist and say that's how I want to paint. Many of the artists are still living and one in particular is Louis Le Brocquy who is 93 and producing his best work at the age of 90, now that’s an inspiration!
Q: Do you paint every day?
A: Painting for me is like breathing, I need it like a stimulant, except when I am on my adventures and some days it’s not possible to paint.
Q: Can you describe a typical day in the Philip Gray studio.
A: I don't have a very typical day but will say that I am very disciplined. I go to work and never get up in the morning and say, I don’t feel like working today.
Q: How long do you spend working on a painting?
A: As long as it takes! But I would say that a good painting is not relative to the amount of hours one spends, it’s the moments of magic that happen in a instant that are what make it special, like writing a hit song !!