Ashton S. Phillips
At its best, my experience of painting is meditative, exultant, and charged. It is a refuge and a sacred practice of connection and renewal that defies easy explanation. Maybe, the best word for it is “prayer.”
As a child, I developed the curious habit of staring at myself in the mirror until I reached a dissociative, powerfully serene state of communion with… everything. The ego - and my subjective awareness of time - completely slipped away. When I came back to my normal consciousness, details of my everyday life (my name, my house, my body) would feel unfamiliar and surreal. For decades, I did not speak of these experiences, but I remembered them in hushed moments when the materiality and suffering of our earthly lives surrounded and threatened to consume me.
By my teenage years, I had lost the ability to reach this blissful state, but I still craved connection to a more fundamental reality. Although I didn’t understand it this way at the time, my painting practice began as a kind of substitute: private, cathartic, and necessary. When no amount of talking or wandering could cure the ache, I pulled out the paints, the turpentine, and the crusty brushes, holed myself up somewhere, and painted. Sometimes for days on end and always in total silence. At the end, I was exhausted, but somehow- cured.
Despite this, I did not initially pursue painting as a full-time vocation, chasing more conventional career paths instead and painting in private only when necessary. Finally, a serious health scare and the news of the arrival of my first child shook me out of it. I knew that I could paint and be a good father and satisfied person - or I could continue denying my true calling and disappear into bitterness and frustration. After three years of law school and six years of legal practice, I put in my notice and enrolled in full-time studio coursework at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.
Soon after, I began showing and selling work. I moved from the urban bustle of Philadelphia to the quiet expanses of rural New Mexico to pursue further intensive studio practice and to surround myself with the strong spiritual energy and peacefulness of this enchanted place. Since arriving, I have continued painting prolifically and exhibited widely in galleries and public art centers from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Moab, Utah, to Denver, Colorado. My work is held in private collections across the West, and I was recently selected for a public art commission in Gallup, New Mexico, to be completed in the Fall of 2017.
Like nothing else since my childhood meditations, painting allows me to move beyond my day-to-day self and connect with the spontaneous, creative energy underlying and animating all things. I paint for this experience, but I also paint to bring some artifact of this energy into the visible world, as a reminder of the transcendent beauty and creative power that lurks around us, almost always under the surface of our conscious perception. I hope you enjoy my work.