Preface to Pentimento

by Lillian Hellman

"Old paint on canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines; a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter 'repented,' changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again."


Works on Linen and Canvas

I have developed a kind of hybrid process combining printing and painting. I paint with oil on linen, stretched across a panel. I hang a piece of fiberglass screen in front of the painting and paint through the screen. When I remove the screen from the surface, there is enough paint on the screen for me to transfer the image to another part of the painting or to another painting. Hence, the multiple images and repeated forms. I use squeegees to move the paint around, both through the screen and directly on the wet surface, which can make visible the physical nature of the process.


Buller prepping his stretched Linen surfaces with Rabbit Skin glue.

Buller using his squeegee to push paint through a fiberglass screen on Linen.

Evolution of a Painting

Buller I 2013 I Moving the Barrels I Oil on Linen on Panel I 48x168"

Equilibrium, strength, endurance; all required to lift and carry these barrels filled with beer. The history of Cincinnati is entwined with the breweries and with the communities that formed around and amongst them. This painting is a salute to the workers who made it all possible.


Evolution of a Painting

Buller I 2015 I Drift I Oil on Linen on Panel I 72x120"


Evolution of Works on Paper

Philip at Retreat Cove Studio, Galiano Island, BC



1. Stay physical with the painting.
2. Be careful only in a perverse way.
3. Try to hold curiosity more than fear.
4. Commit to decisions and follow them despite doubt. Then evaluate them.
5. Resist “tidying up” the painting.
6. Feel rather than think.
7. Continue to search in order to find other than what is searched for. Allow the painting to continue to evolve in it’s unique direction.
8. Tolerate chaos.
9. Use every trick in the book.
10. Trust that meaning will appear, but know that it can’t be forced.

Philip and his partner Janet Adler in studio


Buller squeegeeing a Work on Paper

Buller checking a Work on Paper

by Micah Schwaberow

"All the historical paintings we revere are false. Their genius is to arrest and enshrine a particular moment, an artifice we are trained to believe as truth. Philip Buller’s gift to us is to paint the opposite truth: that no moment is ever frozen, that we move and move and move no matter how hard we try to still our breath, our heartbeat. Our lives surge in a headlong torrent whose authentic representation can only be an almost-recognizable blur.

We think of traditional paintings as two-dimensional symbols of our three dimensional world. Buller pulls us in deeper, into the fourth dimension, into time and memory. His paintings are at once epic and mundane (from mundus, the world). They function like our inner lives unfold: nonlinear, ambiguous, contradictory, unpredictable: an organized chaos at best. Buller’s imagery hovers on the tantalizing edge of uncertainty and possibility. His work is not tidy; it gives us no easy answers.

We don’t know where Buller is taking us. We are in an elevator plummeting between floors, a long hallway with many doors, a charged and liminal space. Events disintegrate and coalesce in a dark surround rent with slashes of light and bursts of color. Whose story are we in? We meet ourselves in the dark, startle our ghosts in a sudden flash of light, glimpse ourselves fleetingly in a rain-streaked glass. We know this place well. An old trauma bogs us down, an inconsequential memory won’t let go, what matters most eludes our grasp, a crazy hope kindles and ignites us, images collide, voices jostle for our attention. Buller teases us with what isn’t there, what is implied, what might have been.

Buller’s paintings turn the conventional device of center of gravity upside down. With a deft compositional gesture he empties the middle, entices us into the vacuum, propels us off the edge towards something essential we can’t quite see. Faces and fragments resurface throughout the body of work, whispering or shouting like unfurling loops of memory. This random repetition establishes a rhythmic thread that weaves his larger tapestry together. We step into this body of work like we cross a shifting logjam over a river; the fragile equilibrium we manage is sustained only with movement.

Philip Buller’s paintings are alive because he has honed the risky art of incompletion. He dares to stop at some point short of final resolution. With this precarious unfinishedness he opens a door. Buller invites us to enter his paintings not as a mute witness to a moment frozen in time, but as a participant in a quickening flow. Bring your story. There is room for you here."