If you’re looking for the highest, most aristocratic art, go somewhere else.
A series of portraits by painter Phil Blank are designed to be the kind of art you would hang on your wall. With several portraits sold since the show opening on Oct. 3, Blank’s posters are in homes throughout the region.
The portraits will remain on display at the Ashley Gallery, located at 718 N. Third St. in Northern Liberties until Nov. 2. Blank, from Chapel Hill, N.C., painted the portraits because the ideas engaged him.
Blank, 31, wasn’t receiving much inspiration from the paintings he created after completing art school at Washington University.
“The work I was doing didn’t seem to fuel me in anyway,” Blank said.
Drawing from his love of music, he decided to paint the way he plays the fiddle: for love.
“I finally said I’m going to make a painting of something I want to look at, of something I would like to have in my house. I decided to pick something, to pick anything that I love,” he said.
Blank started by painting portraits of musicians he admired, followed by other themes that enthralled him, like ethnicity and southern life. Although Blank loves his current home in the South, he is still a Philadelphia native. He grew up right outside the city, in Abington.
Diane Ashley, owner of Ashley Gallery, said the paintings are highly rendered, intense, beautiful and painterly. In short, they are very welcoming.
“I think he is doing something different in art,” said Ashley.
Blank painted portraits of musicians such as Roscoe Holcomb and Ukulele Ike, then moved on to others that he admired like renowned American poet, Allen Ginsberg.
He said that with Ginsberg the poem wasn’t the end product. The end product was to live a better life and to be more aware of who we are.
The painting of Ginsberg is intense. He dominates the portrait, flanked on both sides by miniature versions of his heroes, poet Walt Whitman and blues artist Memphis Minnie. The two rest on houses that symbolize their cultural traditions.
The scene is a metaphor for the empty cycle of life and death illustrated by a chicken and a skeleton. In the sky above Ginsberg’s head, a plane sails across the sky.
The plane symbolizes how all life disappears in the end. Ashley said she loves how there is so much going on in the portraits. “The paintings have a lot of mystery. Every painting has a story to tell. There is the figure and everything that is going on around the figure.”
Blank paints on board because it’s inexpensive, and its hard texture doesn’t give way like canvas does. He prefers earthy colors.
“I don’t really think about is it a blue or a red… I like my paintings to have an earthy feel,” Blank said. “In a lot of them I’ll try to use colors that are not plasticity, and if they are plasticity, to contrast them with the earthy colors so they are really plasticity.”
Blank also plays instruments like the fiddle and banjo in a band called the Fav-o-rites and works during the day for the State Library of North Carolina to implement an instant message reference service.
Blank said he hopes that when people view the portraits, they are tickled.
“And that maybe when they leave the gallery they see the world in a more mysterious way and maybe are a little more aware of the different levels of meaning that are out there,” Blank added.
Matthew Stringer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org