Written By Isabel McDowall



RAY PHILLIPS, Sleep in the Night, 2024

Mixed Media, 44” x 36”

Merge explores a wide variety of subjects, which is par for the course with Phillips’s process. Constantly reexamining past icons and media, he states succinctly, “I like to take old stuff and give it an edge.” Rather than keep a sketch book, ideas emerge from a notebook full of bullet points. When nothing else comes to mind, that’s when Ray pushes an idea, creates more notes. The images and text for a painting often emerge concurrently – the marriage of design and concept. A strong sense of composition, which underlies all of Phillip’s work, is partially informed by the artist’s beginnings in graphic design. Ads, T-shirts and Photoshop carry through lessons that are now subconscious. 


Now as a fine artist, Phillips works best in the early morning when his mind is clearest. A stark contrast from his mentor who took lunch at 5pm. Sleep in the Night captures the artist’s preference, with text instructing to ‘Create in the morning’ and ‘Sleep in the night’. The process of layering is where the intrigue is created, not just in the image and text alone.


Screen-printing leaves traces of human error, which is just how Phillips likes it. Visual imperfections are part of the artist’s practice. A 70’s color palette is applied to each rendition of Clint Eastwood in Sherriff; all of which contain different flaws. Changing inks and reused screens reveal the process, distortions reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe series. Warhol said, “The more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel."


Warhol’s legacy is called upon in another piece, Smokescreened. The title is a play on words behind the process both artists use and what is at the heart of Pop Art, borrowing. The appropriation is layers deep, or as Phillips remarks, “A parody of a parody of a parody”. Literal deconstruction, a ripped away print revealing a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, is the edge Phillips brings to this rendition. 


The artist is careful not to be emotionally attached to his work. With humor and a lack of ego, nothing is precious. “When it’s not precious, it helps the process. Then you can’t have disappointment,” says Phillips. “Disappointment carries through and ego gets in the way. I don’t do Instagram anymore. I was too focused on the feedback and it shaped the direction of my work.”


Ray Phillips has been represented at Diehl Gallery since 2021 and Merge is his first solo show. Born and raised in Texas, he now calls rural Colorado home, not far from where True Grit was filmed. With a childhood full of Westerns, his nostalgic works feel at home in Jackson, Wyoming. 

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