Philip Womack is a 27-year-old local artist. He attended the , and for the past seven years, he has showcased at major events and art walks here in Laguna Beach. Womack's work has an extensive range, from beautifully abstract paintings to extremely detailed drawings. In the larger group of Laguna Beach artists, Womack is a true gem.
Laguna Beach Patch: What's it like being an artist in Laguna Beach?
Womack: I’ve only been here for seven years, but I really enjoy the sense of community. I love the small town aspect—that’s important to me. I like being able to get out of the studio and run into somebody I know. The other major factor for me staying in Laguna is the natural environment. I have a little job in the mornings getting up with the sun and doing some groundskeeping in the canyon. I really enjoy it. Even my studio is outside in front of my house. I love being outside. The natural surroundings from the canyon to the coast is beautiful for me and it gives me a point of reference as well. So that’s inspiring to me.
How would you describe the Laguna Beach art scene now?
It’s set up for tourists. There’s a few key galleries where you can easily see that’s what they’re not. I wasn’t here before, so all I can do is look back at history, and you have these fine artists because of these qualities of light here, and the beautiful surroundings. It was a little tent town with a bunch of roaming artists enjoying it.
Are you entertained by the observations of people who come and see your art?
I love the collaboration. I’m not about to control how they reference the work. I had a gentleman one time who was in such a quandary, he couldn’t figure me out. “Why are you doing this? What are you trying to say?” I’m not trying to say anything—it’s already said. Doesn’t mean you have to listen. I didn’t quiz him on why he likes to make money—you do it because you enjoy it. If there is something I’m trying to say, it’s that I’m interested. I’m involved in something that I’m interested and fascinated by.
I'm curious to hear about how you develop your work. Is there a particular process or system that you have while working?
Destroy, create, destroy, negate, question. My work is essentially about being interested, it’s about fear of complacency, it’s about notions or delusions that control an order. The work definitely stems from my lifestyle, and concepts, and morals and perspective, of course. So, as far as my process of work, I’ve given myself parameters. I’m sticking with painting right now as a medium, and then from there there’s enough questions to be answered. I have to create questions for myself. It’s creating problems, it’s creating a dialogue in the studio with this thing—with the image I’m working on. It’s kind of like a debate or wrestling with putting something out there, and I have to decide whether I like it or not and I have to fix it. So it’s basically a culmination of a series of corrections, if you will.
Do you paint with intent of what the painting is about, or do you interpret as you go along? Is there a set idea?
The set idea is that I want to make something that I enjoy looking at. It’s not that there are preparatory maps, and I get on the trail. For me now, that process is interesting, exciting, and fascinating to me because there’s so much in the rest of life that pertains to how you’re supposed to do things. So this is an arena that I create—or at least I think I do—and I enjoy it.
Do you name your paintings before or after you're finished with the work?
Usually in the middle or after. The paintings are a culmination of the time spent in the studio. And so each one takes on a life of their own with a different history.
Would you say that your artwork is more personal (from your own life)?
Definitely. I think the only thing that we can have is our own experiences. And as much as I find inspiration, if you will, in other lives, it ultimately comes down to my interpretation of what I’m doing. I enjoy the histories of people, and places, and things—great or small. There are a few pieces in my show where the source imagery was found slides. I love things like that, where I’ve never met this person and it’s a little keepsake from this place in time and I’m left with this image. There might be one that speaks to me in a way or has a certain resonance with possibly many people. I like those kind of iconic American experience pieces. But that’s a small part of most of my work—it’s mostly personal.
Does each piece truly have a story, and does each piece truly mean something to you?
It depends how much I let into the painting. Usually, as in a title, I will give it a name of what the current events that are going on. Like my show, for example, was named off of one piece named “June Leash,” and these works were made during a seemingly never-ending June Gloom. As a result of that, I’m using a certain pallet and choices of interaction on the canvas. So it commands a certain structure.
Is there a lot of emotion and/or sentiment in your art?
I think it’s pretty balanced between emotion and logical atheistic. I am a thinking, feeling individual, so I almost can’t help it. I don’t necessarily prescribe to the simple notions of color. For instance, the layman's red is angry, but as far as emotion goes, it’s expressionistic. If people want to find emotion in it, that’s great. Everybody is going to find their own thing in it, or not. It’s just a language that I’ve constructed and I’m still working on building sentences, paragraphs, and thesis.
Do you become emotionally attached to your work at all?
I only get attached to pieces if they’re landmark pieces that are beginnings of new themes or paths, if you will. Usually, I like those first one or two that start a series, and it’s evident that the next step is being progressed. But I don’t hang on to them. I just make sure that they’re in a good home with somebody who seems to appreciate it. It’s usually only with just the special ones.
What is the biggest frustration or obstacle that you have come upon as an artist thus far?
Doubt. When you venture into something new, something unexplored. I strive to be in that place of not-knowing and unpredicting. I have to stay in that zone. The fear of complacency drives me to continue to question and to see if I can shake the game up.
What do you do in your personal life to not be complacent?
I try not to get too comfortable in my surroundings just in the basic ways of moving. It’s kind of interesting I say that, but this is where I live, and I’ve been here for a while. I haven’t lived any place else besides Orange County. People tell me that I should travel more, and I should, but this is home. There’s this idea that you paint what you know. It’s just whatever it takes to be present, aware, and conscious.
What are your other passions or interests?
Music. I like to volunteer, just normal-person interests. I grew up without a television—I love that. I was blessed. I still don’t have one. It’s pretty interesting being an Orange County native. I feel like almost in it, but not of it.
Do you have favorite artists or eras of art?
Currently I like the abstract expressionists. I’ve been reading [Robert] Motherwell’s work for a while. I wish I could have met him. I’m curious to see what he would have thought about today’s society in our world. He seemed to be a scholar and a gentleman.
What paintings do you have on your walls at home?
The works I hang on my walls are others' works. They’re actually some beautiful representational work. I still love that excellent classical drawing and painting—I love to look at my own work, I won’t be bashful about it. That’s why I make it, because I make something that I enjoy looking at. There’s an idea that art is for the mind and music is for the soul, and I’d agree with that.
What does it feel like when someone buys one of your paintings?
That’s the artists' reward. It’s an exchange of values, basically, when that happens. When someone is coming along and agreeing with what it is I’m doing, or what it is I’ve done, essentially. Why they would like or dislike a piece is really up to them. I don’t concern myself with it—I can’t.
Do you have a favorite painting of yours that you’ve done?
I have one that’s called “Adoration of the Magi,” and it’s just because it was one of the first pieces of work out of art school that I made a conscious effort to enjoy what I was doing, and begin a relationship with non-representational work. That was the turning point.
What is your overall goal with your work?
To maintain integrity in what I do, and to continue challenging myself with the work. Also, to continue to ask questions. Right now I have plenty to answer, and that’s what keeps me interested with painting.
Philip Womack can be contacted through his website at www.philipwomack.com.