Welcome to Philip’s Website

I still have nightmares about once a year. Once was once Picasso saw my work and it didn't go down too well, and the other was Gopas. So it's a father figure image if you like.

If a lot of your inspiration came from New York, was there ever a pull to go over and try to make it there as an artist?

I got married and had kids (Martin and Hanna) so it's an unanswered question really. I've been over four times now, and I'd probably like to live there if I had an income around $US100,000. But I wouldn't like to live in New York as a struggling artist.

I think if I lived there they would be different paintings. Probably not a lot different, but they'd be different. I asked Marshall Siefert why he hadn't bought any of my works years ago, and he said it was because I don't paint like a New Zealander. Well I don't think that's quite true, so it's interesting how the history rubs off on you and how people see you.

Do you try and keep up with the New Zealand art scene?

No - I actually try and keep away from it, because it's like gossiping. I believe that if you say something bad about somebody it's in the air, and permeates the atmosphere somehow. So I try to keep an overview, that's why I've picked Waimate (in rural South Canterbury in the South Island) rather than Auckland.

I believe that an artist doesn't belong anywhere, you should paint what affects you. But having said that, it doesn't really matter what you paint. If you paint if for yourself, you knock the New Zealand art scene for a six.

I didn't know what to paint in my early 30's, so I went to New York, to one of those Volvo Tennis Tournaments. Distance gives you insight, and I though then that when I come back to New Zealand I'll paint what I like. And that's what I've done ever since. So I would say to an artist, pick your parentage, and than ask yourself 'what do I want?' Just that one questions - 'what do I want to paint?'

A lot of the talk we have today is far too negative. When I saw my first Barnett Newman it really annoyed me. It triggered something in me, and I'd have flattened him if he'd seen him. But the funny thing is that I was trying to paint like him ten years later. But when I first saw his work I just wanted to paint. The major artists generate this spirit. So you are talking about a positive force.

There seems to be a sense that painting has run its course, and installation is now where it's at. What are your views on that?

There's a bit of deja vu there. I've seen quite a lot of installations. A lot get done in New York. But I'd have to say that I don't think painting will ever die completely.

In my late 30's I wasn't really painting, and it was all installation. I stopped because painting was too hard. Sometimes the journey is too hard, and it's difficult to resolve. What I was doing up to 1979 was telling the painting what to do. The paintings got to tell you what to do. So what I do to exorcise myself if paint everyday on a stream, and the dialogue builds up from painting to painting. And I try to paint the same painting - like Cezanne was doing. But you find that after a week's painting that one stands out and so you roll the others up - no quarrel. When you have shows like this (MOTIF), that's when you need someone else to come in, and that's when you step back too. But you do know that of 25 works, two are good, everybody likes them, and there's arguments about the others. That's how I've gotten around this demon of painting.

I would say that the psyche, like it was in the 1970's where painting was dead, has got to be honest and say that you stop painting because you've got nothing further to say. It means that you are dead for that time. So I would say that installations are fun, but they are easier than painting. Painting's hard - it's easier to do installations because you can play with words, concept and 'found' material. This may be saying that painting has got tired for the moment, and I would say yes, it probably has.

If you put my work up against Mondrian, you'd probably say "where has Phil gone?' I'm a good sergeant, but Mondrian is the general. I don't mind being acquainted with that."

The original interview was published in CoCa, June 1997 ISSN:1174-0426 www.coca.org.nz


Interview Continued

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