Art Limited: Critic's Picks San Francisco

February 2017
by Barbara Morris
Art Ltd Magazine

Human experience, and the way our images and actions may coalesce in a variety of ways—often falling into familiar grooves, or patterns—informs the work of artist Philip Buller. This March, Dolby Chadwick Gallery will present an assortment of his large-scale works. Buller has recently begun working with found photographs that feature crowds, often employing an improvisational painting approach incorporating printmaking techniques as well as a Richter-like use of the squeegee, to create colorful, figurative oil paintings on linen. Brilliant abstract patches in orange or yellow may burst like poppies amid a scattering of hats, or a grid of windows. Mining sources ranging from vintage photo books, Renaissance art and Eadweard Muybridge to images found on the internet, the artist gleans visuals that speak to him for a variety of reasons, then subsumes his individual figures and actions into a vibrant display of intersecting forms. Inspired by screen-printing techniques, Buller often paints the linen through a mesh window screen, incorporating the residue left on the screen elsewhere in the composition, or in a different work entirely. Says Buller, “It is my intention to use these images as one might use a brush stroke… I intend to use them freely, with abandon even.” 

Philip Buller “Human Patterns” can be seen at Dolby Chadwick Gallery March 2 – April 1, 2017.

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

Review: In the Spirit of Velazquez

The San Diego Union-Tribune; Visual Arts

November 02, 2006

Philip Buller uses an image from the master as a springboard for ‘seeing’ 

In the Spirit of Velazquez by Robert L. Pincus, Art Critic

Referencing great historical paintings can be a tricky proposition for a contemporary artist. Adhere closely to some beloved artist or school and the painter flirts with the danger of looking like a slavish recycler of glories past.

Philip Buller, who recently relocated to Galiano Island near Vancouver after a quarter of a century in Sebastopol, eludes this unfortunate fate with his new paintings. He is reverential toward his sources without becoming redundant.

The exhibition is titled “Seeing”. The stated source for at least some of the 14 selections on view at the Susan Street Fine Art Gallery is Velazquez’s “Las Lanzas (The Surrender of Breda 1634)", one of the great Spanish painter’s large-scale history paintings. Though it is a painting about war and conquest, as the title says, it depicts civil behavior on the battlefield: The Spanish victors are being gracious to their Dutch counterparts, who are handing over the key to the city.

Buller’s own paintings don’t reveal a strong interest in the historical particulars of Velazquez’s picture. Scores of painters commemorated events for royal patrons across Europe in the 17th century. But Velazquez's survive not only because they are dazzlingly executed, but because the faces take on a life of their own. Velazquez was ever so modern in the way he conceived of character. Figures don’t exist simply as props for the public moment depicted, but as individuals who look as if they are following their own stream of thought about events.

This is the aspect of Velazquez from which Buller teases out a sequence of his own arresting paintings. In most of the 14 examples on view, the figures are not directly borrowed from Velazquez’s image. They are in the spirit of his figures - men, women and children of his time painted in a style that owes as much to the late 20th century and the 21st as the 17th.

The figures are defined by broad sweeps of color and look as if their faces are in the process of dissolving or materializing. They are done in close-ups. Buller seems like he is imagining a picture as some detail of a larger one. And in some portion of nearly every canvas, he applies the paint through a screen, suggesting a sort of veil through which we are viewing the image. (In a few, he literally attaches a section of painted screen.)

One stellar example is “Occurrence”, with its three figures standing close together, all cropped at about mid-chest. They are lost in thought: one with eyes closed, the middle figure staring into the distance and the third looking at something nearby. Buller makes it appear like we are standing close to the trio and yet they display no awareness of the viewer. The effect is haunting.

His subjects sometimes become phantoms, as in “Woman’s Face, Open Mouth”. The face is separate from the soft blocks of color that surround it and yet inseparable from them too. In “Open, Closed”, he isolates a pair of faces. One has eyes and mouth open; the other, closed. Again, background and human subject are virtually one.

Buller cites Christopher Brown, a stellar Bay Area artist, as a mentor and, like Brown, he reveals a keen interest in the way a painting can incorporate abstraction without losing sight of the figure. But Buller has clearly figured out how to apply Brown’s influence in his own distinctive way, just as he has found a way to turn his passion and close study of Velazquez and other old masters into paintings that speak poetically to the mysterious bond between present and past.