Artist Interviews 2021

Phoebe Clemens  
By Johnny Otto

How long have you been painting in your current style and what is your background in the arts? Any training? School? Mentors? Influences?

I have been painting for about 13 years. At first I would paint from old playboy images or LIFE magazine advertisements. I think the real shift in my work came when I moved to LA 10 years ago and started working off of my own photographs. I have a Fine Arts Degree from Portland State University, but I didn’t really start painting until after I graduated. My friend Steve bought me a book, Leon Franks’ “How to Paint Clowns and Characters” and I learned so many valuable oil painting techniques from it. I taught myself how to paint by constantly looking at paintings and art books of painters that I admired at the time; Lucian Freud, Jenny Saville, Michael Borremans, Neo Rauch.

Your work grabbed my attention because it looks very contemporary yet it also reminds me of postcards from the 40's or 50's. You capture a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past and the people who either occupy your life or your neighborhood. What is it about people that you are so fascinated by? You could paint landscapes or anything else, why people?

I get this asked this question a lot, “Why do you only paint people?” and the answer is quite simple; I find other people to be fascinating. We might set up a feeling or a vibe for the painting, but my models always choose their own outfits, hairstyle etc. I like not having complete control over the style/aesthetic of the painting. The composition is never predetermined. We’ll set up a meeting point, and from there the model(s) and I will walk around until inspiration hits. Although my work is largely figurative, the background has a huge impact on which image ends up being painted. The space that the model occupies is just as important to me as the model themselves when I paint. (oh and I also paint still lives c. 2020 thank you covid quarantine ☺).

Are you currently showing your work or do you have any up-coming shows? How do you market or sell your work?

I am not currently showing anywhere. I guess I should be more active about marketing my work, currently I just post my on my website and Instagram. My sales come almost exclusively from those platforms. I’d rather be painting than marketing.

What is it about Echo Park and Los Feliz which leave such a big impression on your art? 

I have been living in LA for 10 years without a car, so walking around the neighborhood occupies a large amount of my day. The fashion, colors and activity of the Eastside inspire me and thus have such a huge impact on my art. I paint what I know.

Are NFTs a thing that interests you or do you want your art to be seen and felt as an actual painting...Something you can hang on your wall and absorb its aura and energy?

I had to google NFT because I had no idea what it was an acronym for, so I guess that answers that. It’s currently 9am in the morning, I’m only halfway through a coffee and my brain can’t quite comprehend new(ish) concepts like this.

There seems to be a growing community of Artists in the Los Feliz area that have come from all over the world. How have you seen the artistic community change over the years? Has it gotten better, more diversified or has it gotten worse? Are Artists moving out? 

Technically I’m in Elysian Park (adjacent to Echo Park), in the middle of nowhere with nothing but coyotes and Dodger games around me. I have no idea what’s going on in Los Feliz other than my occasional walks there. As much as I’d love to be a bigger part of the artistic community here, I feel pretty isolated up on my hill. I don’t know a lot of working painters in this city and so I can’t give an accurate answer.

If money, fame, any sort of success wasn't achievable from your art, would you still paint and why?

Painting is my purpose for being! I’d feel dead without it. I can’t explain why it has such a pull on me, but it’s the one thing in life that I do that makes me feel like I’m being my truest self. Nothing makes me happier or gives me more purpose. I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to sell work and I’m beyond flattered when people express interest in my work, however money and fame have never been the motivation behind my work.

Are there Artists that you admire that you'd like to collaborate with? Living Artists? 

I think that Claire Tabouret is a pretty fantastic painter. I don’t know how collaborating would work with another painter, but I’ve collaborated with a floral artist (House of Yarrow) and would be open to collaborating with musicians and writers. I love sharing ideas and combining skills.

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