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In Conversation: "Phil", the Street Artist

30th January 2014

Image of street art

Image of street art

Plenty of people must noticed one: a plastic duck expressing its point of view, a snail protesting against the French or wonderful paintings framed by ivy on a red brick wall. For nearly two years York has seemingly been haunted by its own Banksy. "Phil", who wishes to remain anonymous, has been lurking, livening up the city’s nooks and crannies with his surreal, subversive and brightly coloured images.

Q How did you come up with this idea?

I think the Street Art Project was a culmination of a few different ideas that were evolving in my mind at the time. Primarily, I wanted to provide people with a new experience; not just a visual experience, but something unusual that would make them stop and think and hopefully want to tell other people about it.

All too often we can get caught up in the monotony and routine of day to day life, so I wanted to create an experience that would allow people to break away from this, if only for a fleeting moment.

I remember noticing a wall that was framed by an arch of ivy and thinking that it would be a great place to hang one of my canvases. That was probably the eureka moment and the next day I was back with a hammer, picture hook and a canvas and my Street Art Project had begun. When did you become interested in art?

I do not have an artistic background or education, but I really started getting interested in art about 8 years ago. I went out and bought a set of paints, some brushes and paper and taught myself to paint.

Since that day I have become an art addict and could not imagine life without it.

How do you get the inspiration?

I think inspiration comes from life. If you open yourself up to new experiences, view the world through different eyes and push yourself to be creative the inspiration will come. I also get seeds of inspiration from music, films, books and other art. Fortunately my vivid imagination makes a good garden for the seeds to grow and flower.

How do you choose the setting of your works of art?

Sometimes I see a specific object, sign or urban setting that inspires an art piece. However it often just comes down to logistics, such as finding an abandoned wooden sign, a good set of railings or a bare wooden surround crying out for something of interest. Do ducks and snails just convey an ironic message or should we read a kind of hidden message into it, something you would like to communicate to people?

The snails came about by chance. I was a few weeks into the project when I spotted a snail moving across a graffiti strewn wall of an underpass and I remember thinking to myself, “what would he be writing if he could write a piece of graffiti?”

When the idea for the wording popped into my head I promised myself I would write it on the underpass next to the snail if he was still there the next time I walked past him. Fortunately for me, he was and that was the beginning of the snail art.

Unfortunately, my stock of snails ran low and I was unable to get any more (although I do still have a few for special occasions), so the ducks became a necessary replacement. My reason for choosing ducks probably has more to do with the fact they are bright, eye catching and quirky little characters with lots to say. Art is communication, in your case, it is quite an interaction with the audience, since people can contact you to express their thoughts about your work.

What reactions did you expect and how did people actually react?

There are pros and cons to putting art on the street, compared with having work in a gallery. On the plus side I can decide what goes up and within reason where it goes.

On the downside, I very rarely get to see people’s reactions to the art and of course a lot of the art gets taken, which is frustrating, especially when it has not been around for very long.

On my website I ask people to contact me, even if they have taken a piece of the street art, because I am interested in their thought process of why they took it and of course what happened to it. I had hoped more people would enter into this part of the social experiment, but to date only one person has contacted me to say they have taken a piece.

The social experiment has not established whether people take the art because it is there and available, or whether they take it because they like it so much they want to hang it on their walls.

On the whole I think the project is well received and the people who take the time to e-mail me generally do so because they like what I am doing. One of my favourite e-mails came from someone who has seen a few of my pieces, he said, ‘It makes me smile and I’m a miserable git so you must be succeeding.’ For me, that is why I do it.

What are your aims? Do you have any future project?

My aims are quite simple, to enjoy what I am doing and to put artwork where it would not normally be. I hope it brings enjoyment and a smile to those who see it.

As for the future, I would like to do a gallery show at some point to bring some of the pieces together under one roof and I want to further explore the social experiment side of the project.

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