Arts & Entertainment » The Arts

Paint in numbers

Glenn Phillips makes a name for himself


Glenn Phillips clearly can’t help himself. Cross the threshold into his Whitefish home, walk through the vestibule, into the living room, through the kitchen, up the stairs, down the hallways and into any of the bedrooms—even go to the garage and the backyard—and you won’t find a single square foot that isn’t occupied by something he’s created.

Phillips built all of his family’s shelves, cabinets and bookcases, and made dozens of prints, paintings and sculptures that decorate the house. His garage has been converted into his studio, and the things that should be filling his garage have been moved to a two-story structure he built in his backyard out of recycled wood this summer. The first story is his shed, the second story is possibly the coolest playhouse a kid could hope for. Phillips has done all this while working as a bartender at the Whitefish Lake Restaurant (at the golf course) and helping his wife, Kelly Medelman, raise their two daughters.

But starting this week, there’ll be a little more space in Phillips’ home: most of his paintings will be transferred to The Walking Man Frame Shop & Gallery in Whitefish for his first-ever art exhibit, Untitled Titled Lagniappe Recycled.

“Titles are kind of redundant,” explains Phillips about the name of the exhibition, which includes approximately 20 untitled paintings and one sculpture. “You’re looking at it. You don’t need a title to know what you’re looking at…Everyone’s like, ‘What do you call it?’ and I call it ‘That painting on the wall.’”

Phillips, therefore, is looking for help. He’s asking people who attend his exhibit to write down titles for each work. Rather than choose the best title of the bunch, he plans to string the submissions together for one long name.

“They’re going to be multi-titled after the show is over,” says Phillips. He adds that the “lagniappe recycled” part of the exhibit name combines a New Orleans term that refers to a small gift a merchant would give a customer in addition to a purchase, and the fact that most of his work is made on recycled items, such as burlap coffee bean sacks or old Carhartt jeans. Plus, he liked how the four words sounded together. 

Similar to his aversion to naming his artwork, Phillips avoids talking about what his art “means” or whether there is a specific point it tries to make. Most of the pieces in his upcoming exhibit are provocative and bold, with religious icons and other deeply symbolic subjects painted in vivid colors on large canvasses.

“I honestly don’t know how my imagery comes to me,” he says.

His six-year-old daughter Sophie suggests it just “pops into his head,” to which Phillips laughingly agrees.

But there is a theme of fecundity and the act of creation running through most of his work.

In a book he’s created for his family about himself and his artwork, Phillips shows the evolution of one of his paintings: It starts as a simple pencil drawing in his sketchbook of a large-breasted woman, naked except for a tribal mask. Years after he made the sketch, Phillips says he came across it again, and noticed the general shape of an elephant’s head in the outline of the woman.

Phillips scanned the image into his computer, laid the image of an elephant’s head over it and morphed the images together.

Then, using the image he created on his computer as a model, he painted an elephant’s head, with breasts for eyes, a tribal mask in the center of its forehead, brightly colored butterfly wings for ears and an eye in its trunk. The painting is done in oil, acrylics and glitter, on a canvass of recycled Carhartts.

“I don’t limit myself to using only one medium,” he says.

Other paintings in the exhibit include an image of Adam and Eve; one of the Virgin Mary, modeled off of Lady of Guadalupe statues his wife collected in Latin America; and one in which the shapes of eggs, embryos, sperm, ovaries and cells are melded together.

And even as his exhibit opens, Phillips is eyeing the soon-to-be empty space on his walls as fertile ground for more creations. Right now he plans to buy a printing press and start working on etchings and engravings.

“I’m like a shark,” he says. “If I stop, I just die.”

Glenn Phillip’s Untitled Titled Lagniappe Recycled opens at The Walking Man Frame Shop & Gallery on Thursday, Oct. 4, with a reception from 6 to 9 PM. The exhibit runs through Saturday, Oct. 27.


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