Asheville Art Talk: Phil DeAngelo’s Broken Road Studio

A single cow will invariably be featured on one of the walls of Phil DeAngelo's Broken Road Studio. “I can’t paint a serious cow,” he says. “So I do one every year. It keeps me from ever taking myself too seriously." Photo by Thomas Calder

When you enter Broken Road Studio in the River Arts District, your focus will naturally gravitate toward the saturated colors and scenes of Phil DeAngelo’s acrylic paintings. Whether it be the lone tree or the distant farm house underneath a giant moon, his style pulls you in. Beyond the images themselves, the textures and materials used within the works also hold your attention. Poplar, tin, cork and tile all lend further depth to the studio’s collection. In some instances these materials function as canvas; in other instances they are a means of lending additional texture to the acrylic.

Among the many pieces on display, a single cow will invariably be featured on one of the walls. But only one. It’s a tradition of sorts. “I can’t paint a serious cow,” DeAngelo says. “So I do one every year. It keeps me from ever taking myself too seriously. If you’re able to make your living as an artist, you’re blessed. There’s no room for an ego.”

When it comes to dogs in the studio, however, there’s room aplenty. DeAngelo and his wife have five, and there are generally two visiting at any given time. They’ll either greet you at the door or offer a lazy wag of the tail; it depends on the time of day. Either way, their presence lends to the studio’s overall warmth — a warmth that is extended by DeAngelo’s own penchant for conversation. “Interactions are part of the fun in having a working studio,” he says. Naturally, the talks often focus on his paintings. But if you sit there long enough and ask the right questions, you’ll eventually get a portrait not only of the artist’s work, but of the man himself.

While canvas and brush have always played a role in DeAngelo’s life, the ocean once consumed him. Born and raised in Ocean City, N.J., his early life revolved around catching waves. His two passions, however, eventually merged when DeAngelo and a friend, Steve Miller, decided to launch a website that sold prints. After a year working out of DeAngelo’s basement, the two opened a gallery in Ocean City. By then their focus had narrowed, specializing in paintings and prints that captured surf culture.

The gallery grew and by 2001 its popularity led DeAngelo and Miller to create the Art of Surfing Festival, an annual, three-day gathering at the Music Pier. Artists were flown in, as were musical acts and surf legends, such as Kathy Kohner (better known as Gidget).

During this time, DeAngelo and Miller caught the attention of Random House Publishing, which wanted to feature DeAngelo’s prints in an upcoming book. Flown into New York City, DeAngelo met with both the CEO and marketing team. “I should have felt on top of the world,” DeAngelo says. “But throughout the meeting I just kept thinking, ‘I don’t belong here.’”

The feeling lingered, even as the book itself went into print. DeAngelo and Miller flew to expos all over the country to promote it. All the while, DeAngelo felt more and more disconnected from the work. “No one knew or cared about who the artist actually was,” DeAngelo says. “There was no relationship or connection with the customers.”

In 2007, DeAngelo and his wife Tina landed in Asheville for a vacation, three years overdue. They rented a cabin near Swannanoa and fell in love with the city and its mountains. “When we got back to New Jersey it kind felt like we were having an ongoing affair with Asheville,” DeAngelo says. Tina subscribed to numerous local and state magazines. They also started looking into properties. Six months later, they returned for a second visit, to make sure their initial infatuation wasn’t a simple case of summer love. But summer love, it was not.

For the last seven years, they’ve been calling Asheville home. DeAngelo sees the current state of the River Arts District as something historic. There are 180 working studios, yes, but within each studio is not merely an artist, but a member of the River Arts Community. A community where resources and talents are both celebrated and shared. “We’re like a family,” DeAngelo says. “We eat lunch together and we see each other outside of work. That’s not always the case among artists. For however long it lasts, this, right now, is Camelot.”

Find DeAngelo’s work at brokenroadstudio.com or by visiting Broken Roads Studio in the River Arts District.

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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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