Phil Davis produces landscapes, portraits, and figurative subjects that use a combination of rich and vivid colors with additional features of the subjects incorporated using hand-made stencils.
This style is a constant blending and morphing of two processes, a combination that creates dynamic and emotionally heightened images where creative instinct and the fine detail of his chosen subjects are portrayed and juxtaposed alongside each other.
The bold colors and dynamic ways in which they are applied convey the emotional intensity around the subject, whereas the stark graphical tones and fine attention to detail convey a sense of bold physicality. He uses this combination of two processes to present his own interpretation of the physicality of life but seen through the eyes of pure emotion.
His style enables him to work with instinct and emotion, as well as being meticulous. The painting process begins by focusing on color and mood, applying paint to the canvas in an expressive and free-flowing way. Moving on to the composition itself, he creates stencils of the relevant subject matter before printing the results onto the canvas, thereby pushing boundaries with traditional compositional processes in painting.
As he experiments with different ways of applying stencils to canvas, his style seeks to blur the distinctions between traditional painting and printmaking, in order to create new and interesting ways of applying color, texture, composition, and form in order to suggest a more subjective version of his subjects.
Hey Phil! What inspired you to pursue art? What are your earliest memories of doing art?
Phil: I had it in me from a very young age. I’ve been doing what I do since roughly five years old so I think the skill and love of it was always there. I had some inspiring lecturers who saw my artistic strengths and potential. I think I always knew I’d be an artist in one form or another – for me it felt like a personal calling. I was lucky to have that kind of direct focus at an early age
Tell us about your artwork, style, subject matter, etc.
Phil: It’s a mix of abstract expressionist painting, hand-made stenciling, and fine detailing, which as a process I’ve learned from starting out rather traditional in my approach to landscapes and portraits to gain technical experience and discipline. As I wanted to push more creative boundaries I started incorporating a more experimental and instinctive technique, hoping to also conveying a dynamic emotional intensity in each piece I did.
I find your blending and morphing style amazing, how did you develop it, tell me more about that.
Phil: It evolved over time through basic trial, error, and development of previous styles I experimented with over the years. At the start of my career, I felt I needed to teach myself a rather traditional discipline to better understand the finer points of the craft and of composition, and to use these skills in the journey of eventually finding my own identity. My process now is a constant fusion of experimentation within this old-fashioned process, and a way of blending two methods of working in interesting and versatile ways. It’s a natural progression of everything I’ve learned.
You say your style enables you to work with instinct and emotion. Could you walk us through your process? How much planning do you do before you jump into creating an artwork? If you do, what are you trying to solve at each stage of it?
Phil: The process is experimental but I like to have quite a precise idea of what I’m doing before laying paint down, both visually and in narrative terms. I like telling a story and directing my work, I think that’s the jazz music lover in me!
I always have basic preliminary sketches of the composition which stops me from straying too far from my intention. Through all of the layering and experimentation, I like to get everything right. I think there’s a deep emotional connection I have to everything I do, and I have to feel every part of the process with passion.
What is the work you’ve done that you’re the most excited about?
Phil: Some of the big scale cityscape work which I’ve done on commission I’ve ended up becoming especially excited about! Clients have enough faith in my style to allow me to bring that across, but some of the narratives of commissions have deviated from what I’d normally do. This has pushed me in directions I probably wouldn’t do otherwise and encourages me to think outside the box under pressure. As much as I don’t always appreciate it at the time, the best and most exciting results come out of that way of working.
How do you keep your ideas fresh?
Phil: It can be difficult sometimes to keep fresh, without feeling like you’re going through the motions so to speak. If you think about the purely visual aspect of it first with is essential without bounds in its nature, that certainly helps. The story and the narrative that feeds through the picture, the pulse so to speak will come later.
What is a day of working like in your studio? Do you have any rituals that help you get motivated or in “the zone”?
Phil: My younger self could get off on working in mess! I used to be unbelievably messy and able to work with it, these days I’m the opposite and I can’t stand it! That said, that can still occasionally happen with a commission or project that grips me!
Other than that not really that many. Strong black coffee and plenty of instant throughout the day! Refilling my paint jars with fresh hot water and keeping the brushes in good knick. These days I really hate trying to paint and mix paint with discolored water or white spirit! Generally just keeping the studio relatively neat as I work, or at least as tidy as possible.
Who are a few artists/people that really inspire you?
Phil: JMW Turner, which is an obvious choice given my predilection towards color and a heightened sense of drama in whatever the narrative. I love how Turner was able to make his scenes so powerful through great dramatic sweeps of color and relative simplicity in the main focus details.
Edward Hopper, because I’m a big fan of film visuals as an artistic inspiration! For me, his work has a very cinematic feel in how he depicts the mundane and ordinary, and in doing so gives it a subtle drama. Ordinary low-key scenarios in Middle American towns and the discarded architectural relics of the suburbs explode with significance through his rather direct and tonal use of color, and in doing so he made the everyday and easily forgotten look so vivid and intense. Visually he’s been a huge inspiration to my own approach.
Francis Bacon, because I can easily relate to how he strips the surface of the human facade and perfectly captures the inner turmoil, sense of fallibility, and vulnerability of human nature. For me, he is a role model visual artist for how I wanted to capture that same sense of intensity and inner emotion in my own figurative work.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Phil: One of the best compliments I’ve had about my work is someone telling me how musical it is, which is actually something that I’ve tried to bring across in my work. Music drives my work and what I do, sometimes for reasons I can’t explain, but it enriches the process. Maybe I am a nostalgist but it’s the catalyst that gives the color the emotional intensity I am after. Music always gets me in the zone when I feel as if I’m lagging.
What is the best way to reach people that are interested in your art?
Phil: The best places are through my website, my Instagram profile, and my Degreeart profile. I’ll also be exhibiting at the Flux Review virtual exhibition at the end of this month.
What’s next on the horizon?
Phil: Some big scale multiple portrait pieces detailing religious festivals of Spain like La Petrona, Sant Antoni, and Sant Sebastian, some of which I have many photographs of. I’m attracted to the joy and energy in the crowd scenes, and hopefully, as we make our way to slowly going back to some sort of version of normal, it seems apt to undertake them as a reminder of the connection and contact we’ve been deprived of for some time. I’m looking forward to seeing how they unfold in my style.
Other than that, just to keep doing what I do as an artist, and to keep pushing myself to be the best I can possibly be. For the time being, I’m set on my style and proud of the identity I hope to carve out for myself, but there’s always room for improving one’s skills, as well as evolving as a person and reflecting what feels relevant to the time. I’m always keen to experiment with new ways of honing my skills and to push myself just that little bit further each time.