Location: Elora, Ontario, Canada
Featured Work: Mount
Source: 2017-2018 CIVA Sourcebook
From curator Michelle Westmark Wingard.
This incredibly innovative installation by Phil Irish pushes the boundaries of painting and the work’s relationship to the viewer and the exhibition space.
Describe your featured work.
Mountain peaks are so beautiful—how the light moves across the glacier, how heaven and earth come together. I wish all was well, that heaven and earth would kiss. But in fact, the glaciers are melting in fast retreat, as humanity invents ways to live bigger and live faster. This architecturally-scaled collage slams these realities together. The beautiful mountain, with its inspiring connotations, cannot be held separate from our daily speed, hustle, and consumption. Since all the pieces are just nailed into the wall, they could be moved… this provisional, temporary feeling is useful. I hope it allows the viewer to see that everything is shifting and imagine other possibilities and ways of living.
My recent work arises from six weeks spent at the Banff Centre in the Canadian Rockies, with visits to the Athabasca Oil Sands and other sites of industrial economy. I was deeply moved by the conjunction of the mountains–with all the meanings that we ascribe to them–and our ambitions for fossil fuels. I have been interrogating these images in the studio, making images of aspiration and entanglement. I have developed a visual language of intricately painted images that are then spliced, flayed, broken apart, and finally recombined. This energy of life and violent re-ordering reflects both the vitality and risk of our changing global culture. It provokes the awareness that we need to re-imagine and re-order how we live. Out of the shards, new possibilities arise.
What are you making now?
I have spent this past week constructing a new installation for a solo exhibition—another mountain! The work is built directly within the exhibition space of the Art Gallery of Guelph. I enjoy the uncertainty, improvisation, and risk. I am excited about how the work takes of advantage of some unique architecture: the gallery space rises from regular height to a soaring 22 feet and rising again with a clerestory window at 30 feet. A painterly mountain peak now climbs right into that clerestory window. You can now gaze up at the peak, watching puffy white clouds scuttle across the blue sky. Dramatic abstract images–based on cars, mining machinery, and stripes–spill out of the mountain, linking our space to the sublime mountain peak.
Why do you belong to CIVA?
I first encountered CIVA when the biennial conference was held in Canada in 1997. I was about 2 years out of art school and was thrilled to find such a diverse and rigorous community of artists who are spurred on by faith conviction. I have loved getting SEEN Journal: beautifully designed, and so thoughtful. I finally got to another conference at Biola, and have been to each one since. I have found that the community has matured and made the jump to a new generation of artists. Social media now enables me to have some dialogue with the people I’ve met. I recently began teaching art at a Christian university, which adds another layer of camaraderie with many at the CIVA conferences. Being part of CIVA places my endeavours within a wide and rich community of Spirit-hungry creators.
Phil Irish’s studio is in Ontario, Canada. He received his B.A. from University of Guelph, and M.F.A. from York University. Phil has participated in exhibitions at public museums, artist-run centres, and commercial galleries. His work was featured at the Quebec City Biennial, and twice shortlisted for the Kingston Portrait Prize. He has developed new work during residencies, including the Pouch Cove (Newfoundland), the Symposium (Quebec), as the City of Kitchener’s Artist in Residence, and The Banff Centre (Alberta). This July, he will be exploring new ideas at the Vermont Studio Centre. He teaches studio art at Redeemer University College in Ancaster, Ontario.