Phil Hale: Beyond the Representational

Philip Oliver Hale was born in 1963. He first worked as an illustrator then became a well-known American Figurative artist. He apprenticed with Richard Berry, another American painter. One of Hale's most memorable paintings to date is a portrait of Tony Blair, the past UK Prime Minister. Tony Blair sits in a chair, his right leg resting across the other. He seems to be distracted or focusing on a thought, not attentive to the artist or the viewer of the painting. His hands are relaxed. When interviewed by Billy Hill, a reporter for the BBC Parliament, Hale shared his intention was to document and be transparent in regards to his subject. He thought it was important to transcribe the information that was there onto the canvas and not be influenced by opinion or offer any sort of inflection in the process. In the painting of Tony Blair, Hale faithfully kept to the realism of his subject.

However, Hale goes beyond the representational in his other works. Sparrow, a series of art books, depicts various artists including the work of Hale. His oil paintings are of distorted figures in dynamic, gravity-defying poses. His understanding of anatomy allows him the skill to create faces and bodies seen from various angles with a fascinating surrealism. Figures are cut off by the borders of the canvas, or thrown onto their heads, creating a silent violence or emotional disturbance. His work contains a high degree of tension, heightened energy and sometimes terror. The backgrounds are kept simple to keep the focus on the figures.

In Sparrow, his drawings are linear, with little shading or texture. The poses carry the same tension as his paintings. I believe his work contains a cognitive and psychological extension of the trauma, violence and fear of living in the world today. To me, agony, torture, and suffering are summated in his paintings of individual, isolated figures that are in distress. As a person who has lived with a chronic mental illness, I identify with the cut off heads as metaphors of madness, mental disturbance and anguish. The acute and out of kilter angles create an instability that is in the moment.

I regard Phil Hale as an amazing artist and look forward to seeing more work from him. Phil Hale interview

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