Phillip Woolf

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Phillip Woolf captures the moon, the oceans and skies, with a sense of time. Time stands outside time, and the artist registers the processes of nature, the tides, and the moon’s glow. He will juxtapose them together as diptychs. Part of the process involves taking photos with a digital Nikon 80. Another stage involves editing, cropping and reducing tonalities to thus arrive at a composition. The process moves from 3-dimensional reality, to the image, and then on to painting in encaustic. The process is important, for it is a ritual whereby the artist transforms the source and subject of his art into something that exists and stands on its own as a visual phenomenon independent from the source of the art.

Juxtaposed together as diptychs, Woolf’s images of the moon, of shorelines, of the seas and of clouds, become expressions of an era of image access. What we see is transformed by the tools of technology into something altogether different. The astronomer’s lens shapes the source for these images of the moon, every bit as much as the human eye affects the way we perceive the world around us. Scales are jumped, and the surfaces we encounter are worn, textured, and evidence the process whereby nature’s elements work on all materials. Phillip Woolf’s working the surfaces of his paintings mirrors nature’s own cyclical processes. In this case, it is the artist who works the painterly surface, hand buffing them until he is satisfied with the effects of depth, of light and dark. Interestingly, because these paintings are in black and white, they reference an era when photography influenced painting. Painters in the mid-nineteenth century would make their paintings resemble the effects of cropping, of textures and subjects they found in early photography. Phillip Woolf does the same.

Waxing Gibbous is as photographic as it is a textural painting. Almost intuitive, Waxing Gibbous has its borders left open, as if revealing clues to the process of painting, layering, and building textures Phillip Woolf is engaged in. Woolf’s painting recalls John Adams Whipple’s daguerreotype of the moon from 1851 for its quiet and resonant sense of the sublime. Originally referred to as photogenic drawing, William Henry Fox Talbot’s transposition of leaf patterns onto photo sensitive paper were later to have the name “light drawing” suggested by John Herschel, who had already made drawings with optical devices in South Africa. In a sense, Phillip Woolf’s Waxing Gibbous is ‘light painting’ for he is transmuting the effects of light of the moon intuitively as a painter.

The borders between sea and land have always been a subject for artists. For Woolf, they represent something beyond, capture an aura of mystery. We sense a distancing and something very human and simple is expressed through an absence of people in the composition. The sea becomes something visually stimulating, yet untouchable, a wild visual vista that embodies energies as visceral as Phillip Woolf’s encaustic and painted surfaces effects. Executed in a large scale that envelops the viewer, creating an environmental scale that immerses us in the subject, Woolf’s images of the sea and land, the moon suggest transcendence, a heightening of the spirit as substance The suggestion is that we, the viewers, like the artist, have a direct connection to the ebb and flow of the ocean tides, and the moon’s pull on the waters that cover our earth. By presenting the moon alongside the shorelines, Phillip Woolf is challenging us visually. We find a direct connection to the universe in the energies embodied in the tides, the push and pull of the ocean’s waters, mitigated by the artist as medium. The medium of painting is direct and the textures we witness draw us in to these visual environments of nature. 

Ghostly Galleon juxtaposes an image of a ship from the old sailing era, with an image of the moon alongside a shoreline image in diptych form. Cloud Composition in encaustic is flux and flow, an embodiment of the energies that are as mysterious as they are ever changing in the skies above. Noordhoek #2 expresses the scale of nature through painting, and we have a sculptural sense of the landforms, and seas and incessant cloud patterning’s in ominous skies. Lost at Sea, again a diptych, has almost no land, or shoreline. All we see is seascape and the froth of wave patterns diminishing into the distance. The moon painting next to it, forms part of the same composition, but is altogether a different scale and depth than the sea subject. Nature’s procreative structures, nature’s energies, are given a stronger graphic visual impact precisely because of the absence of colour. Black and white evokes the strongest effects of light and dark, of form as we experience it.

With Phillip Woolf’s homage’s to our place in nature, and the earth’s place in the cosmos, the viewer is drawn in, for Woolf paintings a re a reification of the experiential and environmental. We get a sense of the scale of life and of the immeasurability of time as a process we are all part of.  Nature’s theatre, sometimes stark and daunting, with textures stressed and tactile, the atmospheres flattened out just as they are in life by an absence of direct sunlight… and we get a sense of the variant scales of the world we live in, from the distant moon to the sea and sky. All of this involves a dance with light and motion enacted in a vast scale.

John K. Grande