HUMAN PATTERNS, Dolby Chadwick Gallery

March 2nd - April 1st, 2017
Opening Reception on Thursday, March 2nd from 5:30 - 7:30 PM

Dolby Chadwick Gallery is pleased to announce “Human Patterns,” an exhibition of new work by the artist Philip Buller, opening Thursday, March 2. A painter whose practice is influenced by a range of art-making techniques, Buller explores patterns of human experience and organization by recognizing their echo in visual patterns.

Buller recently started working from found photographs that frequently feature crowds. Beach Memory (2016), for instance, is dominated by a network of interlocking bodies, both moving and stationary. While individual actors and groups are engaged in unique behaviors and interactions, when taken together, they produce a rhythmic, harmonious arrangement. 

Beyond the figure, Buller carefully attends to his paintings’ negative spaces, which not only are essential for describing a subject but contain truths in their own right. They also offer a “back door” into a painting that allows for a deeper, freer refinement of its formal and emotional elements. In a move that both deconstructs and highlights the role played by these loaded voids, Buller periodically transfers the negative shapes apparent within one painting onto the surface of another. Even if the viewer does not consciously recognize these recycled forms, they nevertheless have the potential to trigger an awareness of a deeper pattern.

Repetition of visual information, Buller notes, enables him to access a certain feeling in his work—one inflected by longing and familiar at a primal level. In earlier work, Buller used carefully comported faces—especially those looking back out, inviting us to partake in a shared experience—to ignite within us a recognition of what it means to be human and what it feels like to be alive. While this type of reflexive engagement is still of primary importance, Buller now sets it up through a focus on the power of repeated arrangements of shape and color. Here, cycles of human experience, such as loss and transformation, conflict and redemption, are newly articulated through direct visual proxies. The introduction of printmaking into the artist’s practice has proved invaluable in this regard: after painting through a screen set flush with the surface of a canvas, he uses the residue on the screen to reproduce the image—often distorted, flipped, or reversed—either elsewhere in the same painting or in a different work altogether. These visual echoes produce a numinous energy, which is heightened by his signature blurring and obscuring, while also opening up to contemplation the complex workings of memory. 

In addition to adopting printmaking techniques, Buller uses a type of alkyd painting medium that dries in twenty-four hours, forcing him to work for long stretches and without pause while the paint is still wet. He also frequently drags a squeegee across select passages in a manner reminiscent of Gerhard Richter. Buller explains that the squeegee is, for him, the tool of “letting go. It offers a wonderful moment of freedom—a freedom from the fear of ruining something hard won. Addressing the fear is what makes the process rich.” He considers how a commitment to generosity, writ broadly, exists at the heart of this impulse: “generosity, as opposed to courage, might be the opposite of fear. With paintings that move me, I feel that the maker is being generous. When the process feels like it is narrowing, generosity can break through that. The generosity is to work hard to create something, to become attached to it, and then to be willing to let it go.”

Many of Buller’s paintings can be understood as homages to the great painters of the Italian Renaissance, such as Titian, and the Baroque masters Caravaggio and Velazquez. He reveres these artists, he explains, for their unparalleled ability “to marry the aesthetic (symbolized by the eye), the conceptual or intellectual (the mind), and the spiritual (the heart)—and to recognize and manifest so profoundly human patterns of their time.” By studying their compositions and reworking them, he both participates in the original act of generosity that he strives to extend and repeats the age-old human custom of storytelling and interpretation.

Philip Buller was born in 1954, in New Delhi, India, to American diplomat parents. He earned a BA from Sonoma State University in 1992 followed by a MFA from California College of the Arts in 1994. In addition to exhibiting extensively across the United States, Buller has had works acquired into public and private collections worldwide. He currently lives and works on Galiano Island in British Columbia. This will be his first solo exhibition at Dolby Chadwick Gallery.

Press: American Art Collector

Paint/print hybrid
August 2015 Issue 118

When Philip Buller begins a new painting, he does not have the piece planned out beyond much more than a feeling, a whisper of mood, a ghostlike image of an idea. 

"It took me a long time to realize that most of what we talk about with art comes from the mind. It's usually intellectual; this is not a bad thing, but it is dominant," he says. "When you see a finished work you think that maybe it was conceived and then painted. For me it's more of a searching, a discovery through the work. Saying I'm going to paint about X, Y and Z, I could never make an interesting painting that way. I have to start and let the painting gradually come out."

Some of the painting comes out in his unique process, which is based around Buller's history with printing. He paints onto linen with a fiberglass screen stretched over it. His paints penetrate through the screen, creating distorted imagery and scattered colors, after which he can move the screen, which still has wet paint on it, and transfer it to another part of the painting, or to another work entirely. This unique hybrid of printmaking and painting allows Buller to explore the idea of repeated forms, a visual deja vu of figures and objects. The process, he says, can look backward at time. 

"When I paint for the day, I'll choose an image, a photo I've found or one I've taken, and I will paint a representation of that as accurately as I can. That can take many hours," he says. "And then I sort of destroy it. It's never destroyed completely, but it's definitely altered quite a bit."

In Buller's new show, at Quidley & Company's location in Nantucket, Massachusetts, the artist focuses much of his attention on beach scenes with many figures scrambled together against white sands or blue skies. Detail fades in and out of his college-like scenes, as do colors and imagery-a product of his inventive hybrid style. He created the pieces near Vancouver, far away from the beaches in his painting. "Claude Debussy wrote The Sea in the mountains. Maybe he feared too much sea while writing about the sea," he says. Living here in an isolated place, I'm free to explore things differently."

The works-including pieces like Time Added and Striped Umbrella, pieces that show his playfulness with his ocean-side subjects-are designed to trigger memories of summer vacations, of childhood, or warm afternoons by crashing waves. They can also lean toward environmental causes of which Buller is passionate about. 

"I just feel a little helpless about the state of the world and its oceans. They're being overfished and polluted. It's just tragic," he says. "I don't make political art, but as I look at works of art on the water I'm reminded of this old whaling photo. It had been taken in the early 1900s, and it was of a young woman, maybe a girl. She's sitting maybe in the bow of a rowboat, and she's very carefully removing a hook from the mouth of a tiny fish. There's something about her care and attention. She is the antidote for what we're doing to the environment."

“I am impressed with Philip’s unique approach to the construction of his paintings. With a technique that is influenced by his background in graphic design, the layered forms and interrelationships of figures in his compositions are always compelling. But I am most drawn to the ways in which Philip is able to create a moving story in his works; subsequent viewings of his paintings reveal a constantly changing, emotionally evocative narrative.”
— Chris Quidley, owner, Quidley & Company

Whether it's through his nostalgic scenes or his subtle environmental messages, the artist is hopeful that viewers connect with his work on many levels. Many years ago, he was taught a lesson about art and how it comes from three places: "The aesthetic, the kind of most immediate response to what you see. It would be the eye, if it were a body part. The second category would be spirit, which would be the heart; and the third would be the intellect, the mind. The eyes and the heart and the mind," he says. "Many artists use one, fewer use two, and even fewer still use three. It's my goal to always try to achieve all three."

pg 098, 099

Paintings featured in the article:

Striped Umbrella, oil on linen, 48 x 48"

Summer Day, oil on linen, 36 x 48"

Time Added, oil on linen, 94 x 112" 099