Artist Series: Interview with Phil Root

For Isle's SS18 collection, we invited Phil Root to collaborate with us on a new Artist Series.

Currently living and working in Bristol, Phil honed his skills at Goldsmiths College, London and went on to take up residency at Wysing Arts Centre. He is a co-founder of The Grantchester Pottery, with artist Giles Round.

His graphics for Isle convey a playful tone, featuring a carefully chosen combination of found objects, symbolic figures and Phil's handmade ceramic pieces.

Nick sat down for a chat with Phil to learn a bit more about his thought process and ideas whilst working on this project for us...

Isle: Firstly, thank you for firing all these great ceramics for this series. Could you describe some of the objects you made?

Phil: "Thanks for inviting me, Nick – it's been a pleasure working on the series. The objects I've made for the boards are a series of flat forms taken from my recent paintings which include snakes, hills, wheels, rain/teardrops. They are all glazed stoneware which is a medium I often use in my own work. These motifs that I've been developing in my paintings often come from dreams and explore the idea of subconscious imagery, the archetype explored by C.G Jung and the culmination of utopian modernist ideas, typified by the 1960's 'hippie' movement."

What influences these decisions?

"It was the tactile nature and scale of these objects that influenced my decisions around the ceramic works. I wanted the final photographs to be 1:1 scale with boards and also to have the feel of arrangement on a human scale. I wanted all these objects and fragments to come together and start to weave a loose story with symbols, clues and hints."

You’re one of my favourite artists and known for your interest in craft and a hands-on approach to making things. Is this a comment on the ever-increasing digital and graphic nature of design today?

"It is definitely portrayed that way within the discourse of the new rise in the popularity of artists and hobbyists turning to clay as the medium of choice: a return to something 'real' and material. For me, the work I'm making and the forms within them are inherently tied up in the virtual and forms of the mind. So perhaps it's an oxymoron of sorts for me to be producing them in such a handmade way? I think it's very deliberate though. I like the fact that ceramics, once fired, are trans-mutated and very resistant to physical wear, lasting thousands of years with no signs of ageing, whereas we cannot be sure of the longevity of digital media."

Why did you choose to include tarot cards? Are you superstitious?

"No, not really... apart from I do salute magpies in quite a compulsive way! I think the tarot again is another form of exploring the psyche. You're presented with what are essentially personality types and highly symbolic figures: the way you interpret them says way more about your own mind than anything tied up with the cards. For example, the Death card can be scary to some, or it could mean the death of something unconstructive in your life and the blossoming of something new. I wanted the cards to have this power of persuasion over the board, so that they start to embody a narrative of their own. When putting the designs together, however, it was actually very surprising to hear from you that skateboarders, in general, were very superstitious. When told me that many will refuse to ride a deck that has a red stain on the top as it might signify danger or be prone to accident and that I had to be very careful with which tarot card I assigned to which rider. Saying that, it was really good fun incorporating the tarot into the series, as each card took on a certain symbolism for each rider. I think a part of each rider's style and personality comes through in the cards."

You also included some found items: there's a really old-looking fisherman badge hunting for fish, for example. Where did this come from?

"I think that might be a medieval alchemist's badge. It's very bizarre, depicting a man standing on a fish, pissing into a bucket with which he is mixing with a long stick. I was given the badge by a good friend and have since collected more. There is a common theme of the pilgrim being depicted as an anthropomorphic vagina, wearing a straw hat and carrying a staff. I love the crude, sexual nature of these badges. Most of the found objects have been accrued like this. I think the ones included on the boards represent a kind of wandering spirit: the horse, the flute, the pilgrim badge and a book written by Bruce Chatwin."

Do you think there is any relationship between your approach to artwork and skateboarding?

"I've been very interested in flowing forms in my paintings and the snakes, hills and roads all encompass that idea of fluidity, movement and energy. Painting for me is a really immediate thing. You choose form, line and colour and tend to work very quickly making instinctual marks – it's your energy which is important. Skateboarding and art I think are inextricably linked in this way. They're about the joy of existence on the material plane and are simultaneously individualistic and in need of an audience."

Do the graphics relate to skateboarding in a physical sense and not just the personalities of the skaters?

"When you start to look at the graphics as encompassing the idea of flow, you can see how the imagery, although of my own research, can start to embody the philosophy of skating... the freedom in expression... the physicality of doing something in the world. Without sounding too hokey, I hope they act to transfer this energetic flow to anyone who rides them."

Were there any particular learnings from laying the boards out?

"We laid out the boards together and it was a really informative experience. You provided concept and the grid-like structures on which to play around with the box of goodies that I had brought. We quickly came to realise that 'less is more' and to look at the space both as 3D and 2D at the same time. As a lot of the objects – like tarot – were symbolic, it really gave me a new appreciation and respect for how personal a board is to a rider and how much investment can be put into the object. The deck is really something you're connected to. You have a great belief in its transformative power, much like art itself!"

You can see more of Phil's work here:

We will be offering a selection of his ceramic pieces on the Isle webstore shortly.

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