Roswell serves as muse for artist-in-residence Phillips

October 2, 2010 • Local News

Larry Bob Phillips says he is not tripping on LSD. But if not for hallucination-inducing substances, one has to wonder whereupon the former Roswell Artist-in-Residence (RAiR) draws inspiration to create such delightfully devious work such as “Butterfly Trigger,” the featured exhibit in the Roswell Museum and Art Center.

Turns out, the city [auth] of Roswell itself served as one of his primary muses.

“Canyon formations and desert formations are pretty appealing to me,” Phillips, 37, said, adding that Utah’s landscape also inspired the piece.

The installation, which encompasses a 1,300-square-foot room in the RMAC, is a three-piece mostly black and white mural depicting a smorgasbord of aggressive jungle imagery, sexual motifs, and a military industrial complex. Collectively, the piece is reminiscent of a psychedelic ink cartoon drawing from the 1960s.

“It’s fun with a capital F,” RAiR Associate Director Nancy Fleming said. “It’s very graphic and very energetic.”

Phillips, a former calligraphy student who has been compared to famous American cartoonist Robert Crumb, even plopped a homemade SUV made from plaster, foam and plywood in the middle of the gallery space to make viewers feel as if they are characters walking inside a three-dimensional comic book.

“I wanted a cartoon object in a cartoon world,” he explained.

Upon closer inspection, within the many layers of the graffiti-like cartoon graphics, viewers can discern Roswellian influences in the piece of art. From drawings of dragonflies and vinegarroons to the southwestern landscape painted on the SUV, certain elements hearken to the All American City.

Phillips was one of the six artists selected each year to live and create art as part of the RAiR program, established by the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art in 1967. He arrived last August for his residency and stayed in the RAiR compound off La Joya Road on Howard Cook Road.

The facility houses six L-shaped stucco homes with three-bedrooms, one bathroom and a built-in studio. From a tower high above the common room available for all artists to use, anyone can view the sprawling 40-acre lot that overlooks the vast northeastern Roswell landscape, sprinkled with alfalfa farms, truncated adult pecan trees, and abandoned John Deere tractors.

The Texas-born artist who grew up on the plains of Amarillo spent the past year going on evening strolls on the compound’s grounds, scrounging for bugs and different species of flora. When he wasn’t working, he travelled to Bottomless Lakes State Park, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge and Ruidoso. He made ties in the community through local arts supporter Brinkman Randle and artist Michael Beitz who both helped him build “Butterfly Trigger.” He also taught a children’s drawing class at the RMAC on Saturday mornings.

Before arriving in Roswell, he received his BFA from Kansas City Art Institute in 1995 and his MFA from the University of New Mexico in 2006. He also ran an art gallery in Albuquerque, where he now teaches drawing classes at Central New Mexico Community College. His work has been shown across the nation in Missouri, New York, Texas and New Mexico as well as internationally at the Entrance Gallery in Prague.

But it was his residency in Roswell which allowed him the time and space to depart from his usual small-scale ink drawings and indulge the whim to create several immense murals.

The intended effect of “Butterfly Trigger,” he said, for example, was to overwhelm and confuse the viewer at first sight with its “loud, chattering” imagery and sheer magnitude. But eventually he intended for more poetic, subtle images to emerge from the swirling chaotic portrait.

“The viewer would have a primary experience of something like shock and awe and then a slower secondary experience that is more contemplative and serene,” he said.

Phillips noted that the work was inspired by Renaissance Italian frescos, French impressionism, pop art and Barrier Canyon Style prehistoric cave paintings, but also the time he spent in Roswell.

“Having the time to watch the sky, to watch the weather, to watch the trees, and to watch time was a good opportunity. You just see things that you don’t see when you’re rat-racing all the time,” he said. “I love Roswell, and I look forward to coming back for any reason I can.”

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