Phill Evans is a British multi-media artist who has created some striking covers and illustrations for Excalibur Books. As Artist of the Month July 2017, this is an exclusive interview with him.
(NB. On this page we are showcasing Phill’s artwork for other clients. His Excalibur work can be seen elsewhere on this site (-;)
What mediums of art do you work in?
I work predominantly digitally. This accommodates my physical disabilities as well as allowing me to incorporate all the interesting tools and tricks that digital work provides. I work almost exclusively in Adobe Photoshop.
How and when did you start creating art?
I remember deciding that an encyclopedia didn’t have enough drawings in it when I was about 3 or 4. I got into terrible trouble. Been drawing on and off ever since.
Who and what are your biggest influences? (This could be a large list, so mention as many as you feel like)
Goodness. I grew up reading old hand me down books and being drawn (forgive the pun) to the nineteenth century illustrators like John Tenniel and Randolph Caldicott. I was particularly in love with the fairy and natural scenes of Arthur Rackham, the wonderfully drawn quality his works have.
When I started drawing, like most people, I copied what I saw and so I developed a very line-y, cross hatched style, it was only later that I learned that the drawings I was copying were often etchings and that the drawing style I developed was in fact aping another medium altogether.
I fell in love with Aubrey Beardsley when I was ten years old, I still have the “Best of Beardsley” book I bought at the time, the first of many art books I have bought since. Even now I still prefer to work in black and white.
I grew up on a diet of Marvel and DC and owe a huge debt to the stable of artists they used and especially the book “How To Draw Comics the Marvel Way” by Stan Lee and John Buscema. The other book which has had a huge influence on me is “Fundaments of Drawing” by John Ruskin, there’s a great modern version with footnotes by modern artists still available.
Other influences are Ivan Bilibin, Soviet era political posters and Robert Crumb.
How do you concentrate when creating art? With music? With silence?
A bit of both. I like listening to music on shuffle when I am in the researching/ doodling/ sketching phase, but when I am working on a finished piece I go somewhere else, its almost meditative, so it’s nicer if it’s quiet.
I use Facebook as well as a couple of other platforms, although Facebook has been the source of a lot of my work over the years.
How much is politics part of your art?
I would have said not much until recently, but since I got Multiple Sclerosis in 2002 my politics have become more radical than they have ever been and I have found it, at least in small ways, informing my work. First off because I was retired from my career as a psychiatric nurse and could retrain to be an illustrator (which I wanted to be in the first place, don’t even get me started on stupid bloody careers interviews…) I did a degree in Illustration at Wrexham’s Glyndŵr University. This exposed me to issues about both further education and art but also about disability from a personal perspective. It also allowed me the time to reflect on my experiences in psychiatry and working with street homeless people. It also gave me the time to think about my sense of crushing disappointment with British politics and the Establishment. I read a short essay by Henry David Thoreau called “On The Duty to Civil Disobedience” (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper2/thoreau/civil.html) which was a gateway text to people like Proudhon and especially Peter Kropotkin. These days I identify myself as an Anarchist.
This came at a time when it has been government and media policy to demonise disabled people as an unnecessary waste of social resources as a part of the destruction of the social support systems we have in the UK. When I became disabled, there was a meaningful and practical system of support available to disabled and sick people through the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP.) This has now changed to the point that the DWP can now be considered as nothing more or less than a deliberately oppressive tool for the systematic dehumanisation and de prioritisation of sick and disabled people. That the staff who work for the DWP can now be considered as collaborators, little better than camp guards. Government policy has led to the misery, deterioration and even death of hundreds and hundreds of people like me. I owe it to them and myself and my children to use my skills, such as they are, to fight this.
How much is religion and spirituality part of your work?
I have been a conscious atheist since I was five years old and realised that the “Noahs Ark” story was total bollocks so I would say none at all. However I do acknowledge that there is a part of humanity which is transcendent and that everything we do is more than the sum of its parts, but I don’t feel the need to externalise or mystify that.
What are you working on right now?
I have been concentrating on some personal pieces over the last couple of months. In short, I am experimenting with traditional media and techniques. I have been interested in the techniques used in traditional religious icons for some years and recently this dovetailed with finding out about and talking to people in the BDSM scene, particularly those who fetishize latex and metal clothing. Like everyone else in modern western “vanilla” society I am used to fetish wear being a bit of a joke. In a sitcom if you want a cheap and reliable laugh you put a gimp mask on dad and give mum a whip… Getting to know people in the scene has allowed me to see things rather differently. I interpret all the language which goes around fetishization, the fetishized objects themselves, its all just expressions of love. Something which should be celebrated and honoured in all ways, I think. In other news, I have recently finished doing the digital colouration and texturizing of a comic book version of MacBeth for Shakespeare Comic Books (https://www.shakespearecomics.com/) and will soon be starting on The Tempest.
Any final words of advice for the general reading public?
Read more. Listen better. Keep talking to each other. Buy original art 🙂