Mel Phillips

Mel headshot

Art at the Intersection

Around the Corner from Hurt to Healing

My life is colored with love.

I want your life to be colored with love, too.

I was nine when three magical masterworks forever shaped my view of artistic creativity and possibility.  First was the second-hand paint-by-numbers kit and the small thin wooden panel enumerating the image of sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh.  The panel was clean and blank; the prior owner had only used the watercolors that now were mostly brownish with blobs of yellow or spotty orangey rings or dingy blue-green specks.  Still, I painted by the numbers and in the end I created a mess.  But I preferred my version to Vinnie’s.  Freed from the tyranny of the oppressive color wheel, I went on to create Crayola scapes with pimento red grasses, purplegreen skylines, marigold mountains, pink pumpernickel clouds and burnt blue umber sunrises.  That flawed picture, that beautiful mess, taught me that being unique beats being perfect.

The second stroke of magic was when my third grade class made aerial mobiles inspired by Alexander Calder.  Floating art?  Genius!  That week I transcended the walls of Mrs. Schnell’s room.  It was strange and wonderful, that wobbly arrangement of pipe cleaners, magazine paper and Popsicle sticks.  For months, my bright work hovered gently in the warm thin air like a radiant geometric cloud form directly above my tiny metal desk.

The big trifecta happened while thumbing through a library book and getting my first look at Number One by Jackson Pollock.  There was nothing else like black Number One; it wasn’t a face or landscape or snoozy fruit bowl, it didn’t even have a proper name.  This was scribbling way outside the lines, and the artist even embedded rocks, gravel and glass in some of his canvases.   I liked the freeform kindergarten aesthetic that made Number One seem so basic, so easy, so approachable.  I still remember holding the heavy oversized book in my lap and studying that odd dark wonderwork with young clueless eyes as my 9-year old brain casually thought, “Yeah…I can do that.”

That triple experience permanently inspired how I see, shape and express my creativity.  With respect to my work, “Folk Artist” is PC for “dumpster diver.”   What I do is find old tossed things to make cool new things with.  Like my race and the world around me, my media is mixed.  I try to find scrap material for all my paintings and sculptural pieces.  I am far from classically trained or seeped in technical nuances and the slight-of-hand of a modern master.  I envy you magnificent impresarios who dance around the canvas stabbing, swishing and swooshing like paintbrush matadors.  Me, I’m the raging Brahma bull with gnarly spray paint horns.  I lunge at the canvas with nostrils flared. I sling paint and slap it down, scrape it off, smear it on again, inflame it, smudge and smack it more, pounding out the colors and beating up the textures to flesh out purpose and character.  It is intense tough love but it jives with my style of impassioned discourse with the larger universe.

Today art and me still have our lifelong relationship based in openness and trust.  I need art like air and, in kind, it needs me to give it breath, voice and possibility. Without each other we are nothing.  I hope that by taking discards and reimagining and remaking them into cohesive singular exultant expressions, they gain new life and agency in the world.  Gone is the time when they were deemed trash, castoffs, throw-aways; now they are beloved.   And in my heart I imagine that we can do the same thing for each other, transform our relationships, create a fresh reality, shift perspectives, and see one another in completely unexpected ways.  Juxtaposed with art, I hope to shed light on our perceptions about gender, race, sexuality, inequality, social justice, systemic biases and all the hardwired mechanisms that fuel the silent engines of violence everywhere, and how together we can find brave epic ways to combat and eradicate violence for good.

I believe that understanding and solutions wait around the corner at the intersection of hurt and healing, but we must be bold to get there.  Like Jackson Pollock, let’s break the school rules and dare to explore outside the margins and wade into the gravel and glass.  Like Calder, let us rise above walls of separation to pin our purpose upon the horizon and paint the skyline with our clear bold vision for the world to see.  And in the spirit of Van Gogh, let us bring our own unique selves to the work and acknowledge that our world is designed to be messy, so let us make a beautiful mess of it together.  Without each other we are nothing.  This is true for art and the artist.  It is true for us all.

In what ways has art been a part of your healing?  In what ways do you imagine art playing a larger part in social activism?  How do you envision YOUR art and creativity being tools in the work to address oppression in all forms, including child sexual abuse?  I look forward to discussing how, with art in all its manifestations, we can reimagine, reshape and create a world without violence.

Let us color each other with love.

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