THE COMPOSITIONS OF PHILLIS IDEAL: INTENTION OR ACCIDENT?

     Currently on view in the Alcoves 20/20 no. 4 exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Art are the paintings and collages of Phillis Ideal. Her abstract collages demonstrate the balance of shape, texture, and color to create mixed geometries of curves, arcs, planes, and lines. These enclosed and constrained spaces are juxtaposed to free and active brushstrokes, which conflict and complement each other. Her spaces are cut off and limited, yielding comparisons to enlarged microscopic-like views of greater works. There is much to experience through her curtailed circles and truncated trapezoids. Primary colors of reds and yellows alternate with pastels of violet and pink. Color field smoothness contrasts with anxious brushstrokes invoking the conflict between order and chaos, control and freedom. Her works are hybrids of collage and paint, acrylic and spray, creating expansive yet restricted spaces.

     Color Conversation presents two primary colored – yellow, red, blue – geometric shapes bordering each other. Are they conversing with or threatening each other? The curved red and blue figure on the right seems to recall a giant capsule, perhaps promising relief from an unknown painful external condition.

     Blue Slant presents an original shape which is based upon a handmade stencil with lavender and orange tones applied with acrylic and spray paint.

     Pink Power invokes references to the Woman’s March with its central pink space. The space is opening up with sheet-like planes either falling out as if escaping, or folding in as if including.

            Hold that Line Series (Painting in the Time of COVID 19) comments upon the current COVID crisis in our country and in our world. How does an artist, whether visual, verbal, or musical, who usually thrives in an atmosphere of freedom, manage to create in this restricted and fearful environment? The looseness of Ideal’s agitated brushstrokes competes with the constraints of her delineated shapes. Which will be stronger – freedom or restriction, chaos or order?

     Historically, independent of our current vulnerable state, Ms. Ideal has frequently applied color field geometry with brush stokes, color with collage, abstraction with expressionism. She describes her gestural language of combining small details and big, active gestures. She feels that color is intuitive and that its appearance is part of the experiment. Her process is both intentional and accidental. An unplanned shape or tone can appear and affect the entire work. The tension of rejection and acceptance is simultaneous. An accident is not necessarily a mistake.

     Accidents occur in another artistic form besides visual art. It is an integral part of musical composition. Actually, such terms and actions as composition, harmony, tone, balance, repetition, rhythm, arrangement, variation apply to both sight and sound. Accidental notes in a musical composition are notes that are not natural members of the chosen scale. These are the sharp and flat notes on the piano keyboard which are lower or higher than usually expected. The sharp note raises the pitch by ½ step; the flat note lowers the pitch by ½ step. They add drama and surprise. Indeed, they can sound like a mistake, but ultimately it is the choice of the artist to use them. Bach uses them intentionally in his Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue, literally using chromatics to add dashes of color to his score. Johann Sebastian Bach and Phillis Ideal use accidents to deviate from the expected. Both borrow from other sources. For Bach, they are acquired from other keys; for Ideal they are acquired from stencils, paints, colors. These artists are fitting in an unfamiliar element to create tension, surprise, and attention.

     Phillis Ideal continues to create tension, surprise, and attention in another art form. She alternates between visual and verbal expression, exhibiting her works and publishing her short stories. This excerpt combines both, while simultaneously honoring her mother and her grandmother:

“I still see big Mama leaning over her garden to pick a zinnia to put in her still life, her old pink slip, hanging diagonally a foot under her hiked up, ragged, stained dress, half covered by her white faux fur bedroom slippers, both splotched with oil paint.”

Painting with Big Mama, 2017

Written by Sharon McCawley, Curatorial Docent at the New Mexico Museum of Art

Image Credit: Phillis Ideal, Pink Power, 2017, acrylic, spray paint on canvas. Courtesy of the artist.