I covet every vision when I’m allowed to die
Leave this earthly mission and enter the full-moon eye
—LIMBONIC ART, “Under the Burden of Life’s Holocausts”
“It’s when that element of surprise is there. I can feel the flow start to happen just in terms of working, which is actually an altered state of consciousness” —Joan Brown
Interview with Philip Hinge
Questions by Beatrice Helman
Hi Philip! Thank you so much for talking with us. Can you tell us what originally drew you to painting?
Painting is a very immediate and natural way to communicate. A lot of information can be packed into a relatively digestible form. The blurring between the physicality of paint and the tactility of image is such a seductive phenomena that is a true experience.
In what ways have you noticed your work evolve over time, or perhaps how has your relationship to it changed?
Everything seems to keep opening up. The things I allow myself to bring into the work and the tangents I give myself permission to go on are growing all the time. That broadening has been an accomplishment for me; I don’t like to corner myself in subject matter that will lead me to getting bored or stale.
What are some of the advantages, and limitations of using acrylic paint? Do you see any relationship between your chosen medium and the emotions that you’re work invokes in the viewer? I’m also thinking about the use of cat litter in When Its Cold. What does the effect of layering have on your work, and how important is texture and tactile experience?
It might sound obvious, but I like the artificiality of acrylic paint, that kind of superficial surface that comes close to being an apt mimic of oil. It also feeds this overarching trip I’m on about trying to subvert this “class” issue that is all over painting. I’ve met a lot of oil snobs, and their arguments ultimately become redundant and pointless.
Cat litter is a means to re-introduce some level of the organic back into the plasticity of acrylic. This mixture of clay (specifically meant to absorb animal waste) spices up acrylics tendency to be kind of… crappy.
In this day and age, tactility and the physical experience is so important to me. The image has to register as a picture, but for me it also has to register as paint. the dynamic melding of image and painted structure are a formal bug I have not been able to shake.
Do you find that your choices when making a painting are driven by a desire for an aesthetic or a physical process? Are you a person who is drawn to texture, to layering, to the physicality of painting, or are your choices in purpose of the final aesthetic product?
Like anything else it fluctuates frequently. For a long time I was a surface junkie who looked towards the texture of a painting for validation (ie. “I can see the work I’ve done and feel good about it because there is a lot of paint sitting on the surface”). I’ve been better at focusing the image and stopping when the painting still feels fresh, and hasn’t been buried in the physical layering of paint (while still maintaining physicality).
Can you take us through the creative process that you go through before you start a new piece of work? Do you start off with a vision in mind or does it come to you as the work progresses?
I’ve got a few different things going on at any given time. I keep my imagination active by doing, constantly doing. This allows me to funnel images through pretty quickly. It usually works out that I struggle finding an image, and come up with seven more while finding the first, meaning there’s mixture of pre-meditation and cluelessness going on. Working on paper has become increasingly integrated into the studio (I can burn through a lot of ideas without the storage nightmare of consistently painting on canvases).
How does your work help you navigate your own emotional experience of the world? Your work is so vivid and dynamic and yet I’ve read interviews in which you describe yourself as being ‘fairly introverted.’ Is there a relationship between those two things, or does one inform the other?
I’m sensitive and making things helps that. At the risk of being overly vulnerable, painting is my coping mechanism ( I don’t even know for what). I think having an active internal life has always helped me justify having a placid and largely uneventful external life. Bottling emotions runs large in my family, and painting helps me try to escape that fate.
Are there any themes that you find to be reoccurring in your work? Themes can extend to physical colors, moods, emotions, anything that you find might or might not find a home in your work.
Death, humor, depression and self-perception seem to be pretty constant themes. The shuffling of these helps flesh out this absurdist narrative I seem to have been stringing along for the past many years. I’m obsessive, and one of the things I obsessive (sometimes humorlessly about) is death. Part of the weird otherness of painting is that it is a very accepted form of death worship. I was sheltered from things that might be too “grim” as a kid, but looking and “appreciating” paintings and art were encouraged, even though all it is is weighing the accomplishments of the dead, and trying to channel them in some way. Extending the metaphor, studio life is equivalent to a room-sized ouija board.
How much does the outside world come into the end result of the painting? For example, you include a lot of everyday objects in your work. Are these things that you’re physically close to, are they items that strike you in your imagination, are they emotionally charged items? By taking these everyday things and turning them into art, you’re almost commenting on the very nature of what is traditionally depicted in paintings.
I’m definitely tied to the traditional tropes of painting’s history. In my work it seems like the best invention is the result of exploring things that are very known to me. So painting my cat, or black metal figures, or table cloths and bottles is a very grounded jumping off point to get to the weird possibilities that are hiding in all of the things that we consume. I also think it’s a very successful strategy to subvert expectations and also question this “old as time” mode of painting a a practice.
Part of what’s so wonderful about your work is that it seems to have a sense of humor, or at least a relationship to the abstract that is subverts the idea that paintings are supposed to be serious and serious only. Is that intentional? Is there a purposeful link between your work and humor?
O for sure! I think humor is an important mechanism in the work; it creates an access point or disarms the viewer, letting them walk into the work. Humor is relatable and exciting and can be superficial, or profound, or absurd and existentially charged. It helps round out the interactions I have with painting. Like everyone experiences, it can be a defeatist activity and feel crazy to get hopelessly depressed over some funny picture on a rectangle, BUT! having some semblance of humor can assist with that angst. Often my brand of humor is self-deprecation (probably a defense mechanism) but it makes for some weird images.
What do you mean when you say, ‘I also believe painting shouldn't be exempt from dumbness,’ which I, again, read in an interview, and seems to relate to the above?
It ties into the perceived seriousness of painting and art in general. For me, the weight of art history can only be escaped by some sort of informed irreverence. “Dumbness” is one option, as it potentially trivializes the importance of the artist and the art vernacularly they woven into it. Dumb ideas can be a real path to vulnerability and earnestness (both of which I think are paramount to whatever art ticks my boxes). And again, it helps to steer my role in this conversation of painting and class.
Furthermore, do you have an opinion on art that has an agenda, or almost the idea of ‘art,’ as an intellectual concept? Do you have a perspective on how and why art should exist in society? I’m thinking of your exhibition Don’t Look Now and the relationship between good art and bad art…
This is lofty, I have a lot of opinions. I believe in earnestness, and “art with an agenda” can trigger my cynicism. If art is for anything, it is to try and connect us to each other or to let us try to experience and understand things outside of ourselves.
I hate hate hate the movement of “bad painting”. I grew up in a time when all that “bad painting” was just painting, and at that it was interesting and good. I’m not confessing that I don’t understand the reasons the term was coined, but it seemed forced. If anything it confirmed that painting’s issues with class led it to qualify “painting” wasn’t traditionally or crafted up to par (whatever that means). This maybe exposes my distrust of agendas.
I recently read an interview in which you mentioned “impending sense of triviality that always seems to be looming” and was wondering if you expand on that and also talk about what you might do to dispel that feeling, or if there’s anything that you rely upon when you’re stressed or overwhelmed?
It’s a vicious cycle; I make things and stay busy because I feel like that there isn’t a lot of time left, butI also understand that what I make will also be forgotten. I haven’t found a good way to cope with being stressed or overwhelmed other than trying to “work” my way out of it. It sounds unhealthy and is potentially unsustainable but I’ll figure it out later.
I feel it most particularly in this collection of paintings in terms of Cosmic Rings, do you find that there’s an element of anxiety in your work or purposeful ambiguity? How do you work with more abstract concepts to translate them to the world? This is a question that speaks to larger intention when it comes to painting, as in, what are your intentions when you paint? What are you trying to communicate?
When I paint I’m trying to understand myself and my own thoughts, and then scrutinizing about how they fit into the world. I’m trying to deal with my anxiety and my depression and my insecurities, as well as the impending sense of doom I have. After grad school I decided I would stop rationalizing my decisions. School was fun but it was way too much about over-intellectualizing every decision and making sure you fit in some sort of “canon”. Just making images and paintings is much more honest to where I am as an artist, and makes it more relatable to others, hopefully. There should be a good mix of things that read easily and things that get fuzzy in the paintings, letting the paintings communicate with each to create some twisted meta-narrative.
What does a typical nine-to-five day look like for you? How do you stay focused, are you a person of routines or is every day drastically different?
I wake up daily at around 5:15 (for my full time job, but I also keep that schedule on my studio days) On weekdays after work I’ll try to get some painting in, or studio cleaning, or work on Catbox Contemporary, or anything that makes me feel like I’ve validated my creative urges that pop up during the work day. On weekends I’ll wake up, eat breakfast and coffee, then be in the studio by 8 am. I’ll work until 12, eat lunch, then paint from 2 to 6 or 7. I need a routine and I need consistency, that’s when the good stuff happens.
Are there any other artists who have influenced your work or have inspired you to attempt new directions in your own work? Or is there one piece of work that’s had a lasting impact on you?
Joan Brown is eternally important to me. Her simplicity, honesty and straight-forwardness created profoundly thoughtful and inventive work. Armen Eloyan too is someone who always seems to be mixing it up; making painting that look backwards and forwards simultaneously.
Also, Kippenberger, but duh. A piece I think about a lot is Kippenberger’s dinosaur egg painting. That’s a painting I find myself making, without even trying…and then I need to stop. Beautifully strange and patterned and image but also still very much a painting.
What are some of the things that are important to you in your day-to-day process of being in the studio—how important is space to creation, for you?
TV is important to have in the studio. It’s important that there’s something familiar and noisy on. For a long time I re-ran episodes of MST3K all day, that seemed to really establish the studio as a “safe place”. I need to feel comfortable in the studio, so it is usually semi-clean and has my cat in it. If it gets too crowded or messy I’ll get overwhelmed and freeze up.
Along those lines, what are you reading? What are you listening to? What are you watching?
I’m bad at reading, but I did actually slog through a book recently, “Annihilation”, an eco-scifi horror story about an alien enigma affecting a small portion of land, creating a weird and mysterious alternative eco-system (the movie based on it was also really good).
I’m listening to my fair share of black metal, particularly, Midnight Odyssey, a one man band out of Australia that is very atmospheric and moody and narrative.
I like trashy reality tv, and am looking forward to this season of the Bachelorette.
You seem to like your cat quite a bit! Is there something that drew you to cats in particular, and do you find that this relationship appears in your work?
My cat is extremely important to me. She is my light in a dark place, and the owner of my gallery. I’ve always had cats in my life, and I think their presence is important in my work. There a spooky little other world companion that seem wise beyond their years. My cat is also a good work motivator, her favorite room in the apt is the studio. It seemed natural that cats should enter the work ( a kind of “paint what you know” situation).
How does living in a city influence not only the things you choose to paint, but the way that you choose to paint them? As a creative person, what are some of the benefits and negatives of living in a city?
The city is about speed and consumption. As i said, I work a full time job Monday to Friday, which means I need to get out what I can whenever I have the opportunity. I seem to thrive on not having a lot of time. From that perspective there is no time for the usual turmoils and existential dread I can fall into when I’ve got more to think about what I’m doing. Everything in the city is very reactionary and I’ve been adapting to that. All these things can be both negative and positive.
I will say the definite positive is the access to everything. There are so many exciting and talented people working here, and being able to reach out and visit them is a true gift. I had the good fortune to meet people when I moved here who made a huge impression with their overwhelming generosity and kindness.
What are some of your other great loves outside of art?
Few and far between. I love my partner and my cat, and I love bad movies. I’ll take this chance to suggest Neil Breen to everyone. He is an architect in Las Vegas who writes, produces, and stars in his own movies. He’s done 4 so far (with a 5th on the way), and their narrative thread is that each one is about how smart, tortured, and morally superior he is to the rest of the human race. In short, he is an enigma, and his movies have been the strangest and most engaging things I’ve seen in a decade.
Have you ever found that you need to look to other materials or mediums to create? Do you find that you’re ever drawn to something such as photography or sculpture?
I dabble in sculptural objects from time to time, but they usually have enough of a rectangular base that its easy to think of them as being in conversation with painting. I used to make animations, but again they were very painting centric. I also tried to write a book once….it didn’t work.
What is your personal relationship to social media? Do you find that it supports your work, and your growth, or that it’s dangerous to your creative process? Do you use it solely personally or for professional reasons as well?
It’s pretty much all work related. Personally I don’t feel like my life outside of my cat and making stuff is particularly interesting (and I like to be fairly private about my partner and our relationship with a few exceptions). Time being, social media seems to be good for me, although it’s easy to let it get toxic. I feel balanced right now with it.
Generally speaking, in your opinion, what are some of the benefits and detriments of social media in relation to the art world? How has technology changed things, even in the last few years?
Having been someone who lived and worked in a basement in Maryland, feeling very distant from the bright lights of the big city, social media is pretty great for getting noticed and staying “current”. However it is also a great way to feel behind or like you’re not getting enough done.
Are there any accounts you follow that you love?
Any of the many accounts that post whale videos, that and the thrift store art one.
Do you have any projects, shows or residencies coming up?
This summer I’ll be in a couple shows; at Asya Geisberg and Marinaro. In November I’ll be in a group show at the Pit in LA, curated by Kathryn Brennan. Sometime in the summer I’ll be participating in a side project of Anthony Miler. I’ve got a lot of programming lined up at my project space/gallery, Catbox Contemporary. In conjunction with Catbox, I’ve recently I’ve started publishing and designing artist’s books, and will have a couple being released in the Fall/Winter. I’ve also recently joined The Coastal Post (an artist-to-artist interview platform).
Thanks so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Philip and his work, check out his website.