Interview with Philip Dees


Prelude:

What struck me most about Philip’s work was the energy that comes out of his drawings and how he translates that into his three dimensional sculptures. In his introductory email to me, he stated, “At the core of my work is my love of drawing. Not finished refined drawing as works of art, but loose, exploratory, ever-changing, evolving thumbnail sketches.” The art of Philip Dees is exploratory tactile manifestations of line, shape, form and color.

 

This is the first in a series of what I hope will be many interviews with area artists. The title, Artside Inside came from a brain storming session with Jon Robeson and Trevor Bridgewater. We all thought the title appropriate as we take you along side the artist.

 

Brian Miller

 

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“Artside Inside” with Philip Dees, Terre Haute Sculptor

By Brian Miller

 

What motivated you to be an artist?

I was interested in art when I was very young. In high school I took art classes and loved them. After high school, I went to John A. Logan Junior College in Carterville, Ill. and took art classes.

 

I received my BFA degree at Southern Illinois University with an emphasis in drawing and painting. I had an assistantship, and I took up welding that summer to earn some more money. And then it started to dawn on me - welding/sculpture - and I looked at the work of David Smith and Anthony Caro and started sculpting on my parents’ patio.

 

I received my MFA in Sculpture at Indiana State University.

 

Why did you decide to stay in Terre Haute after getting your MFA?

I’m not sure. I tried to get a teaching position but it didn’t happen, and I was working here in a foundry and then started to work at another job. I met my wife Gemma, and we stayed here. Gemma wanted me to find a place with a shop that I could work on my art, and we found this house.

 

How is your art evolved?

In graduate school, everything had to be heavy. I was cutting shapes out of two- and three-inch steel, and as I got older it became more difficult. I want to be able to pick something up or at least two people can pick up, put in my truck and take it where it needs to go. I like working smaller, because if I have a year for a project, I tend to use the whole year to do it. If I get a certain amount of money for a project, I seem to use that money for the project. My work is scaling down, I can learn more from doing 20 projects in the same amount of time that it takes to do a large one. And, I don’t get quite as physically worn out.

 

What motivates you now to continue producing your art?

I enjoy it. I enjoy seeing things develop. I enjoy the aesthetic process. Does this work? Setting it up. Okay, that works. Now I have to fabricate something.

 

So you are still working at another job?

Yes. I work 40 to 50 hours a week at Great Dane here in Terre Haute. I work four days, 10 hours per day. By Friday, I am just too beat to work on sculptures, so on Fridays I do a lot of drawing. Then on Saturday and Sunday I come out to the studio and work on sculptures. If I have a paying commission, I come out here more frequently.

 

Would you like to do your art full-time?

Oh, I would love to, but if it doesn’t, it is okay; I enjoy doing this. When I was in graduate school and had a few commissions, I figured it would keep going like that and I’d be doing it full time and it would be my livelihood. It didn’t work out that way, but that is okay too. If I can come out here and put in 15 to 20 hours per week that’s alright.

 

Why is art important to a community?

First of all it gives a community identity. It distinguishes this place, Terre Haute, from another community. It creates a uniqueness that a community would not have otherwise. It signals that you aren’t just surviving you are living. You have soul.

 

Do you worry about what people say or think about your art?

I have learned through the years that art gets a reaction. I do care about the reaction it gets. Sometimes, I don’t understand the reaction. I have several stories I could tell, some good, some bad. What I wonder about is “do I always have to explain it.” I don’t understand the negativity. Some people don’t understand and they think you are trying to dupe them somehow.

 

How do you market yourself?

Showing my work and networking with artist organizations like Arts Illiana and the Halcyon Contemporary Gallery.

 

Do you think public awareness has gotten better locally?

I think so. Twenty years ago most of my opportunities were outside of Terre Haute, but it has gotten a lot better.

 

What other Wabash Valley artist have influenced you?

I shared a studio with Pat Titzer and learned a lot from him. I met the blacksmith John Bennett and have become friends with him. When I worked on a large commissioned project, I worked with Kelly Metal Products. They allowed me to come into their shop and work with them, and I hired them to do part of the fabrication. Just being around actual metal works really helped.

 

What advice would you give people who want to do art professionally like you have?

For me it is just having fun. The times I have gotten too serious, it wasn’t fun anymore. My advice is to just have fun with your work.