Travis Phillips, a visual artist living and working in Winston-Salem, is a recent graduate of the UNC MFA program, a new father, and a full time teacher. His studio, which occupies the basement floor of his home, is the result of his own physical labor. In addition to designing separate rooms for storage, research, and putting paint on surfaces, he installed drywall and a ventilation system. This space has allowed Philips to keep momentum in his practice throughout a condensed wave of major life transitions. Subverbal sat down with Philips in his studio to talk about his current work, balancing new responsibilities, and how language relates to visual communication.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE WORK YOU ARE CURRENTLY MAKING IN 3 SENTENCES?
I do not contemplate or process information in any semblance of a linear fashion as language attempts to convince me. Rather, the way ideas work in my mind (and I assume is true for most people) are more everything all at once with multiple, sometimes even conflicting perspectives that run amuck both in conflict and harmony simultaneously. Each element of each idea is separate with its own autonomy of sorts, yet intimately interconnected with all others and as such not so unique as it were. Each aspect of each idea, concept, feeling question etc. functions independently with full autonomy while both responding to and dictating each adjacent idea and feeling. Currently I am actively working on roughly 7 autonomous bodies with another 4 that I am eager to begin. Each body has its own very specific set of aesthetics, materials and conceptual criteria, yet each also overlaps (I think) very naturally and seamlessly with the other 6. As I am working on one piece I often find solve the issues I am having with another or discover better was to build bridges between one body of work to the next. Through my work I am attempting to understand cognition and the languages we use to think, to speak and to think about thinking. My work is an investigation into the nature of mind as it relates to the search for knowledge and insight. This naturally becomes as much about the failures and illusions inherent in our conception of language.
WHAT/WHO ARE YOUR INFLUENCES AND/OR WHAT IS INSPIRING YOU RIGHT NOW?
Recently I have been going through the lectures and poems of Richard Tuttle, who is as much a philosopher as he is an artist. Many of his writings and talks I have to review 3 or 4 times before I can develop even the weakest grip on what he is getting at. But the glimpses I have been able to glean are monumentally inspiring.
MATERIALS/TOOLS/PROCESS - HOW ARE THEY IMPORTANT IN THE WORK?
Every process I develop begins first begins with a concept which then dictates the materials, tools, and applications I use. Recently I have been working through the aesthetics and logics surrounding research, knowledge, insight and language. My materials are some combination of books, paper, lines, tape, graphite, highlighters, acrylics, oils, spray and glass. Each component is of monumental importance in my work. Nothing is out of place and nothing is left unconsidered.
HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR WORK HAS EVOLVED OVER TIME?
My work is becoming more and more free over time. Early on I was convinced everything I made had to be resolved, researched, theorized and “answered” prior to even collecting my materials. This was undoubtedly in part an unfortunate byproduct of the art education I received that presented a hypocritical agenda of subversion through the methodology of control and conformity. In time I have become more interested in the intimate conversations art presents – conversations that can only be engaged through experiences void of words and sequence. Art, for me is not about answers presented through illusions of language. The purpose of answers, I believe, are merely to provide a route to a better question. Art, rather, is about questions. And I find that the best questions exist in places that our standardized tool of language cannot access.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT HOW YOU MANAGE YOUR WORK/LIFE BALANCE?
I would say there is little balance to my act. In juggling a full time teaching load, a partner, a newborn, 2 dogs, other “life shit” and a full time studio practice there is little room for balance. It is more a take what I can get when I can get it sort of thing. Thankfully I require little sleep, which allows me to be in the studio wicked early and wicked late. I found long ago that if I am not making or working through something with material I am not well. Typically, this “not wellness” starts off mental, travels to behavior, and eventually becomes physical. I simply need to make in order to be healthy. In many ways making is life. As a result, I find a way to make life work.
WHO IS YOUR ART MOM, DAD, AND CRUSH? (INSPIRATIONS AND ASPIRATIONS)
I’m not sure I am the offspring of a standard mom dad relationship. Agnes Martin is undoubtedly the mother (or grandmother) to this scenario. She likely had some kind of an affair with Richard Tuttle but raised me to believe that my father was Gerhard Richter.
My crush… Nathan Hylden.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND NOISE (OR LACK OF) WHILE IN THE STUDIO? MUSIC? TV? PODCASTS?
The background noise is most often whatever is rolling through my head. But this week it has been “Fallen Angels” – a tribute album by Bob Dylan comprised of old time love melodies originally composed by the likes of Carolyn Leigh, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles and company.
WHAT IS THE MOST OUT OF PLACE ITEM IN YOUR STUDIO?
A flower patterned umbrella
IF YOU WERE BEING SHIPPED OFF TO SPACE TOMORROW, WHAT 5 BOOKS WOULD BRING? (ART RELATED OR NOT)
Jorge Luis Borges - Labyrinths
Carl Sagan - Cosmos
Gerhard Richter- Writings 1961-2017
John R. Searle - Mind, Language And Society: Philosophy In The Real World
The largest spiral bound book of blank paper that I can find