Our Cover Artist: Philip Frey

Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth will present a solo exhibition for Philip Frey from June 20 to July 14, 2018. The Gallery will also host a book launch and signing for Philip Frey: Here and Now on Saturday, July 7, from 4-6:30pm

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Over the past twenty years, Philip Frey has earned a reputation as one of Maine’s finest landscape painters. His use of color and light is exceptional, and his paintings – done in his bold palette and distinctive style – are beautiful images of Maine’s harbors, landscapes, and cityscapes.

I am pleased to say that I have known him since he was in high school with my daughter, and I have enjoyed watching his career and reputation grow over the past twenty-odd years. 

His paintings are filled with bold colors, exquisite light, and the signature style he has developed and perfected.  

This summer, Courthouse Gallery Fine Art in Ellsworth will host a solo show, “Soft Persuasion,” of his recent oil paintings, to open in conjunction with a book launch for Philip Frey: Here and Now, written by Daniel Kany and Carl Little. The book is a well-earned honor for a dedicated and talented painter. 

AG: Way back when… in high school, did you dream or hope to make a life as an artist?
I did. In high school, I had studied and admired many famous artists, including da Vinci, Matisse, Cézanne, Rembrandt, Rothko, and thought, “what an amazing, noble thing to do and be.” But, I wasn’t sure how to go about it or if it were even a possibility. My teachers, especially [high school art teacher] Ken Mike and artist Alan Bray (who taught me at the Maine Summer Arts Program), showed me that through hard work, discipline and confidence, it was a career I could embark upon.

AG: My daughter remembers Ken Mike as being pretty tough on students – pushing them, expecting their best.  What are your thoughts on how he influenced you?
I think Ken Mike appeared tougher (and maybe he was) than the other teachers because the study and practice of art didn’t seem to hold the same importance as the principal academics in primary and secondary education. He expected the best from us and we came to expect the best from ourselves. In my mind, that is one of the hallmarks of a great teacher.

Ken also worked diligently to help us, and the school at large, see that creativity and art is at the core human history and achievement. 

Our mind is naturally creative and is capable of beautiful creation and great destruction. Ken recognized and taught us that there is a link between creativity and the concentration it develops, to academics, athletics, self-awareness, and spiritual pursuits. The coursework was demanding, even college level, when we reached the latter part of our junior year and senior year. 

Ken Mike is a Renaissance man in the true sense of the word and expected his students to think deep, wide, and creatively. 

AG: How has your Buddhist practice influenced in your art?
Yes, it has definitely influenced my art and life in very positive ways. The foundation of Buddhist practice is  mindfulness meditation: the formal act of training our mind to be attentive, to be present, without attempting to alter anything. Then, we practice being mindful as we go about our daily lives.  Buddhism is a way to gradually work on ourselves – to improve and develop our positive qualities so that we move about our lives more gracefully. 

There are, of course, some parallels between creative endeavors and mindfulness meditation. One has to concentrate to paint and see what’s before you in an unvarnished manner. When distraction or laziness comes in, you make mistakes.  The space created by slowing down to notice is the birthplace of creativity. So, from the mindfulness standpoint, it has helped me be better at that as a painter. 

As a business person, who is making, marketing, and selling art, it has helped me make better decisions, build positive connections, and create a successful small business.

AG: Is there anything you would change, or anything you wish you had done as you made your art journey to where you are today in your career?
I wish I had saved more when I was just starting out. While in college, I could have made more lasting connections with my professors. Additionally, I wish I had asked more precise questions about the business and life of an artist of my college professors. 

AG: Do you feel that you sacrificed anything in life for art?
I lived in a place without running water and indoor plumbing for 17 years before I could save enough to purchase and renovate my current house. So, in a sense, I did sacrifice some comforts to be able to make it as a painter. At times, it’s not been easy, but I have enjoyed my path. 

That ability to enjoy is due, in part, to my parents teaching us to be flexible and content despite circumstances. They taught us to be practical yet follow what makes us happy. 

AG: What direction would you like to take? 
I would like to continue to paint, to create that which I find compelling and brings me joy. I have always been interested in the power of the formal elements of painting and the act of painting to softly persuade me to be present: to slow down enough to look deeply at what is happening before me. 

As far as I can see, I will continue to explore various subjects as well as the nebulous and interesting “boundary” between representation and abstraction. 

AG: Any advice for young people who want to go to art school, and pursue a career?
The basic reality is this: a career as an artist is hard work and very few people make a good living at being just an artist, yet it is very rewarding. 

First, go to art school. Do your research and find a well-regarded college that you can afford. Keep in mind what your debt will be. Make sure the school has an excellent foundation program that will teach you drawing, anatomy, 2-D and 3-D design, color theory, painting, sculpture, printmaking, art history, studio practices, and the business of art. Connect with your professors: they are your  bridge to the professional world and a successful career. 

Take a part time job, internship or apprenticeship in the art field while in school. Work hard and take joy in your work. 

Be professional – presentation is key. Be smart and get clearer and clearer. Ask questions, lots of them. Get feedback from your peers and professionals. 

Learn to be flexible, take outside jobs, develop another side career (like teaching), or be lucky to have a partner that can support you when times are tough. 

But, above all, as Joseph Campbell once said to his students, “follow your bliss.”

AG: Anything you’d like to say that I haven’t asked?
I’m delighted to be profiled in this year’s Arts Guide. So many teachers, artists, friends, and family have helped me personally and in my career in unforeseen and innumerable ways. Thank you!

Courthouse Gallery is housed in Ellsworth’s historic courthouse and registry of deeds, two beautifully restored 1830s Greek revival buildings offering over 4,500 square feet of exhibition space. Owners Karin and Michael Wilkes represent contemporary Maine artists or artists with a strong connection to the state, including established artists whose work can be found in major collections nationally, emerging artists, and selected estates. Emily Muir, Judith Leighton, and Holly Meade are among the estates represented.

For gallery hours, call (207) 667-6611 or visit www.courthousegallery.com.