Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A painting kindred spirit: Phil Durgan

Phil Durgan, a very talented Buffalo artist, died so very young a couple of days ago.  I feel somehow guilty in writing about him; I'm not particularly good with death or emotion associated with it.  But as a fellow painter, I will want people to write about my work when I am gone.  Phil's work is definitely worth writing about -- it is full of nuance, observation, rhythm and the lights and darks of life. Phil and I admired each other's paint; I think we saw strengths in each others work that we wished we had.  Phil's work has a natural rhythm; he guides you through a piece to music that he knows intrinsically (he loved Jazz). Phil brought MOAB (the painting above) to an exhibit I coordinated in 2011 at Statler City.  It was the first time we talked and the first time I saw the really big painting seen above.  The prospectus indicated that all the work in the exhibit be related to Buffalo's architecture and/or communities.   This piece resembles a street map of the city; an inviting, familiar, yet possibly dangerous location.  The shimmering pavement flows throughout - letting you move through and around the sharp corners, bump over squiggles and seek out sanctuary in small nooks.  When I see the scissors I think immediately of Diebenkorn, they are open but non-threatening --I get the feeling that Phil's scissors are kid's scissors.  The eye is also the sun is also a light bulb -- this could be a wonderful metaphor for how opening our eyes to our surroundings allows us to view our world through both intelligent realism and optimism.  There is also a dark undercurrent woven into the canvas.   The skeletal figure with the large red dot covering most of his skull is very ominous, and the sun's rays could simply be dangerous spikes.   Phil mentioned in an interview with ELAB that he liked to read artists bios including those of Basquiat, Pollock, De Kooning, Picasso.   One can see the conversation his work has with these artists on canvas as well as to other artists he admired including Jean Dubuffet, Cy Twombly, Joseph Bueys.  His material usage is often identical to Basquiat -- acrylic paint and oil sticks.  Basquiat said that every line had meaning -- this is true of Phil's work.  I certainly don't know the meanings, but you can feel their purpose.  

His artist statement is brief, but true.  He wrote: "I am always amazed by the little things in life and equally impressed by the daring. My paintings seem to always encounter the ideas of: Bebop jazz. Cigarette smoke. Road maps. Women. Beat literature. Mid-century colors. Hymnals. Sumatra. The Gospels. Raconteurs. Drag queens. College radio. Women. Street musicians. Nag Champa. Fireflies…and my children."

More of Phil's words about his work at Buffalo Rising.  Phil's obituary in the Buffalo News.
Phil's poem on FB that accompanied this painting:
"I hear cars racing down my street
Neighbors yelling 27yr greetings
Cat dogs plows mufflers bottle breaks
I hear love being made
Deals broken
Taxis on flat tires
Children escaping school buses"
The association between jazz music and the cacophony of sound that accompany the day to day is striking and it makes complete visual and auditory sense. 
The colors and brushwork in this piece are sensual and confident.  It contradicts the the text... "No. 8 Pathetic."

This is my favorite Phil Durgan painting.  The broad bands of off-kilter color clash with the pale centered woman.  Her face is worn, seen both as in the process of being created and in being deconstructed.  the paint of her body and dress is so full of life and movement when compared with the flat, unyielding, yet unbalanced bands of color.  Phil had said he wanted to trade work with me... I always thought we'd get around to it eventually... now that Phil has passed away I regret that I never got around to the "trade." But his paintings, along with his friendly smile and energy, will live in my memory always.   Especially this painting -- for me she is a reminder that I need to keep painting and that I need to enjoy my children and husband cause it could all be over too soon -- there isn't always a tomorrow -- a lesson I first learned from my dad who passed away when he was only 28.   I can't get stuck in routine, but need to be fresh and full of life and keep things off-kilter.   I don't want to sad or stress (she looks both); I want to be like the paint that creates her -- joyful, spontaneous and layered.  I don't know what Phil intended with this painting -- but it has taken on a lot of significance for me on how to move forward with my own existence.



  1. Hi There. I love your artwork and your blog--which I am sure you already know. I am passing on a nomination for the Liebster Award. I hope you continue to sharing your story, I look forward to reading more. :-)

    Here is a link to the nomination (it is on my blog with all of the details), http://inthelupus.org/2014/05/11/liebsteraward/.


  2. Amazing art work and beautiful! what a fun thing to do! I wish we had on in my town! Your painted turned out great! : ) Thanks for sharing.
    female art prints

  3. I truly prefer to reading your post. thanks most for taking the time to share such a pleasant data. i will positively add this nice post in my article section.
    female art prints

  4. It’s truly a nice and helpful piece of information. I am glad that you simply shared this useful info with us. Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.
    landscape wall murals