My Kingston - Phillip Thomas

Visual Artist

Sunday, September 08, 2019

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You were born in Kingston. Tell us about your childhood.

I grew up in a standard working-class nuclear family. Being the last of four, I understood early in life the importance of authority and discipline. I had a very full childhood and growing up at a time when television signed off, I truly had a complete outdoor “rough and tumble” boyhood.


When did you first realise that you had an affinity for painting?

I really did not know what art was then, not really. I simply knew that I had an ability to think through imagery.


What was one of the most memorable moments of your first week at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts?

Meeting Cecil Cooper. It was like being drafted in the army and meeting your drill Sergeant for the first time!. You knew immediately that art was not for the uncertain. His instruction became a lasting impression because as you develop as an artist you come to realise all the things he was saying all those years ago are still true today. I was very lucky to have studied with great lecturers at that college.


After graduating from Edna, you did an MFA in NYC. What was the transition like?

The transition to NYC was jarring. The first time I left the country I was going off to do a master's. I was very fortunate to have earned a scholarship from the CHASE fund as well as the Cobb Family Foundation, so I had some space to transition with a bit more ease than I otherwise would have.


You've had quite the year with pieces shown at the National Gallery and in San Franciso. Give us a rundown of where your pieces have been exhibited.

In addition to working with the National Gallery, I recently closed two group exhibitions in NYC and another in San Francisco. The Harvey B Gantt Center for African American and Diaspora Arts and Culture has recently acquired Pimper's Paradise: The Terra Nova Nights Edition, a painting that was first shown, at the National Gallery of Jamaica, then shipped to the Museum of the African Diaspora San Francisco, then to its new home in Charlotte, North Carolina.


What does it feel like when someone tells you how much your work has moved them?

It's always a good feeling to be appreciated for your efforts. Artists of all disciplines will attest to that. It gives you insight into how the work is affecting people and it makes your endeavour tangible in some way. However, you can run the risk of becoming comfortable with living for that sentiment and losing sight of other very important things.


Who has been the greatest influence in your life, and why?

The greatest influences in my life are my parents. They have done a solid job with their children. With very simple jobs they have managed to raise college-educated children. It still amazes me to this day knowing the sacrifices they have made.


Where is your go-to spot in Kingston?

I do enjoy several spots in Kingston; it's so difficult to choose. As the title of the painting above would suggest, I do enjoy a visit to the Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel once in a while. And, of course, galleries.


What tips can you give to a bourgeoning Caribbean Art collector?

It is important for Caribbean collectors to find value in the art of their region before someone else tells them its value. Too often our collectors are uncertain until the external forces make them certain. I have seen these predicaments many times over.


If you weren't an artist, what would you be doing?

I would be an engineer or an architect. Incidentally, I was very successful with engineering as well as architectural drawing when I was in school. When I was submitting applications for college I sent them to both UTech as well as the Edna Manley College. In the end, I went with my passion.

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