Our October exhibition, New Works by Phil Epp, is just around the corner. Our intern, Jill Lingwall, interviewed Epp to learn more about him and his work.
Phil Epp was born in York, Nebraska in 1946. Phil was awarded the Kansas Governors Artist award in 1985. His paintings have been shown at Galleries in New Mexico, Chicago and Kansas City and New York. Numerous monumental public works have been awarded honors including “8 wonders of Kansas Art” in 2009 and ”Water Tower of the Year” in 2010. In 2009, Phil was selected as a U.S. cultural ambassador to Kazakhstan with the Department of States’ “Art in Embassies” program. His work is currently on display at the U. S. embassy in Riga, Latvia. Epp's studio is based in Kansas and he continues to travel, photograph and paint the empty western vistas.
How did you get started as an artist?
I started early. I always enjoyed drawing. When I went to college my interest in art became a passion and I've pursued it since that time. As my skills improved and a personal visual language developed, the need to communicate with my art became more important.
It's obvious your environment influences your work. How does Kansas, and places you've traveled, inspire your subject matter?
I think everything influences my work. I'm most drawn to geographic locations with ground vegetation and open spaces. Places where an individual is somewhat alone with the empty natural environment. Landscapes where you can see the sky and the horizon. My work is seldom about a specific location, but an imagined landscape that seems familiar to me and the viewer. I have lived most of my life about five miles from town. As a youngster the bright lights were enticing but, I matured, the isolation became more appealing.
Your artist statements quotes that, "My intention is to engage the viewer in isolation, but not dictate a response." Is it difficult to create works that meet that happy middle of being engaging but open to interpretation?
I love this question because I think it answers itself. I want to retain some mystery for myself and the viewer. As a successful painting progresses it becomes a world of its own. That’s whats fun about painting. I don’t want to intimidate the viewer but invite them to also explore the wonder and mystery.
Horses are often in your paintings, can you describe your history with them?
I've always liked horses and I think they make a great visual link between the earth and sky. They are figures in a landscape.
I love your paintings at sunset where the sky seems to glow with the color combinations. Can you explain how you utilize color and light to add to the mood of your paintings?
That’s a tough one. Paintings begin in many different ways. Sometimes it starts with an idea, sometimes a doodle, sometimes an observation, sometimes a photo, and sometimes a color. I begin with one of these elements and start putting paint on the panel. It then becomes a mental dialog between the previously applied paint and the next brushstroke.
How has your technique evolved over the years? Have you always used acrylics?
I've used a lot of different mediums but mostly acrylics. I never understood the rules of oil painting and I think that has been a blessing. Its allowed me to search for my own visual language. Acrylics allow me to work in layers, more like a printmaker without the restrictions, or a watercolorist without rules. Because my paintings evolve as they progress, acrylics allow me to easily make changes or adjustments. The quick drying time also seems to suit my impatient personality
My favorite piece from your upcoming exhibition, "New Works by Phil Epp," here at Modern West is Marfa Prada. For those who don't know, Prada Marfa is a real, permanently installed sculpture by artists Elmgreen and Dragset near Marfa, Texas. Is there a story behind you choosing to paint that location?
I think Marfa Prada is a masterpiece. Although my work doesn’t directly address consumerism, there are many elements that seem similar to my visual intentions.