Asheville Art Talk: Painter Jeremy Phillips plays with colors and shapes

THE UNTIED FRONT: This oil painting is among the featured works in Jeremy Phillip's latest collection, 'Impossible Interior Babel.'
THE UNTIED FRONT: This oil painting is among the featured works in Jeremy Phillip's latest collection, 'Impossible Interior Babel.' Painting by Jeremy Phillips

By day, Jeremy Phillips teaches humanities and religious studies at Haywood Community College and UNC Asheville. By night, the instructor plays with colors and shapes, creating worlds on canvasses, commercial fabrics and found objects.

In Phillips’ latest collection, Impossible Interior Babel, the artist combines a series of themes that seek to play with viewers’ perceptions, as well as call to mind ancient tales reminiscent of the modern day. The work will be on exhibit at Pink Dog Creative Gallery in the River Arts District, beginning Friday, Aug. 18.

A self-taught painter, Phillips got his start in 2008, while living in London. A lifelong admirer of the arts, he says his decision to pick up the paintbrush was because of financial constraints. “I wanted paintings that I couldn’t afford,” he says. “So I said, ‘I’m going to try and make them.’ And I have never stopped.”

It seems fitting that, in his latest works, Phillips found inspiration in religious tales. “The story of the Tower of Babel … seems very current right now,” he says.

TOWER OF BABEL: Phillips works on his Babel series.  Photo courtesy of Phillips
TOWER OF BABEL: Phillips works on his latest collection at his home studio. Photo courtesy of Phillips

In Genesis 11:1-9, the world’s inhabitants all share a common language. Together, they begin building a city on a plain in Shinar. During construction, they decide to create a tower that reaches the heavens. In response to these plans, God introduces new languages in order to confuse the people, preventing them from continuing with the project. Soon thereafter, the city’s inhabitants are scattered across the earth, divided by foreign tongues.

“I feel like we are living in a Babel moment,” says Phillips. “People don’t really understand each other. People are talking past each other. … We’re trying to build a world that we all can share, but … there seems to be a failure to communicate.”

The collection calls to mind this dysfunction, yet its presentation is playful and light. In one instance, Phillips offers a tower of stacked gift boxes; in another, a giant, pulled ribbon takes on a similar shape. The tower is emblematic of a failure to communicate, but within the individual works there is also a critique of modern consumption and the further distraction and division it creates.

What Phillips has dubbed as “impossible shapes,” are a separate series of paintings and sculptures featured in the collection. “You look at them and they shift in all types of ways,” he says. The shapes are created with bright oil paints. The gray backdrops create a sharp contrast to the unusual forms, generating a sort of optical illusion.

Other works within the exhibit combine the familiar and unknown. In a set of 12 abstract paintings, Phillips creates a series of works that, at first glance, appear like a collection of unmatched puzzle pieces have been forced together. Embedded within each disjointed piece is a fragmented image from inside a house. A green dining room is paired next to a red den. And yet, on some level, this mashup generates a cohesive — albeit unorthodox — representation of a home.

Phillips says one of his missions in creating Impossible Interior Babel is to challenge audience expectations. “There’s that place in our mind that’s always looking for resolution,” he says. “[We want] the music to conclude on the right note. … But when [art] promises resolution in a way, but doesn’t quite offer it, I think it plays with your mind. It keeps you interested.”

WHAT: Impossible Interior Babel
WHERE: Pink Dog Creative, 348 Depot St. jeremyphillipsart.com
WHEN: Opening reception Friday, Aug. 18, 6-9 p.m. The exhibit will remain on view through Sunday, Sept. 3o. Free

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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. He has worked with several publications, including Gulf Coast and the Collagist. For his weekly #tuesdayhistory tidbits on Asheville, follow him on Instagram @tcalder.

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