Friday, 6 July 2012

Interview with Phil Elbourne



As I interview Phil, he is wrapping torn strips of canvas around books.
I have heard you say when asked to describe yourself; that you reply, ‘I am a painter’, and then apologise. Is this true?
It is, because, I think that’s where painting is at the moment. It’s that a painting is always about painting. It is always a painting of a painting. So it always has that self awareness. I think to be a painter you have to have that same self awareness, a self depreciation – to say I know that this is out moded, it is irrelevant but I am still going to do it.
Is there a place for painting anymore?
Yeah. Well like I say....
We are interrupted by the loud ringing of someones mobile phone. Phil walks over to where the sound is coming from. A silence falls. He walks back. ‘ I smashed it’, he says.
I re-ask the question: Is there a place for painting anymore?
I think it is really interesting that when you look at the history of human civilization, there’s like painting. Painting is one of the oldest things that sort of like, when we became humans we started painting and it’s really interesting that at the same time we became humans when we discovered fire. I think there is a really interesting analogy to be made, because we still use fire and you know, but we use it in a more controlled way. So for example your gas fire, hob; to light it you turn on a switch. When you light it, it becomes fire, but it is controlled. And I think painting is something similar. Then there is this thing of sitting around the camp fire and it’s really beautiful to just watch the fire as fire. I think there is something about that in painting. It is so old; it is something that has been with us since we were aware of our situation as humans and it will never stop being relevant.
So you feel painting is much more controlled now. Are you a control freak?
Phil laughs, ‘Yeah’, laughs, ‘No’. It is about how much you control isn’t it? And it’s about how much you appear to be in control.
So do you switch it on and off like the hob?
Yeah? Yeah!
Is that how you feel when you are painting- that you are switching it on?
No, it is more like you know when you light a bonfire and you are in control of it, but it is raw and it’s like there, but you have put rocks around it to keep it in. It’s that sort of thing. But the real thing about painting or it can be; is it is all about control. Isn’t it?
For you it is.
It is about how much you give. But for me also –when you have made a painting, you don’t control it anymore. As soon as you step away from it you are no longer in control. It is the viewer who is in control.
I nod in agreement.
It’s like I was reading about icons, Catholic, Orthodox icons. The painter when they finish the painting, they’ve spend ages on it, months on it. It is beautiful, like gold leaf, all the pigments, everything is perfect. And then as soon as they finish it they put it on the wall and make sure they are the first person to worship it.
And it is that kind of thing as an artist, that you make a painting and then you are the first viewer of that painting.
It is really exciting I think.
Your practice also involves video and 3D work.....
Here the recording is accidently switched off, although our conversation carries on unrecorded...until finally I ask.
‘So what does your screen smell like?’
Phil takes his phone out of his trousers and gives a small sniff.
‘Pocket’, he says.

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