By Ruth Ann Ruiz
The Post Newspaper Features Editor
“Make more stuff” is the motto for artist James Philips. His work is seen on lawns from Galveston County to Kansas City (MO) as well as on display at the Rene Wiley gallery in Galveston. Philips left his steady job in industrial equipment sales eight years ago to expand his work as an artist.
“It was feast or famine in the early years,” said Philips “Whenever I’d start feeling sorry for myself, I’d make more stuff, because you won’t have clients if you don’t have stuff to sell.”
Early art lessons started when he was a child in tow with his mother at the Houston Museum of Art. “Mom loved art and she took me to class with her,” said Philips. “She would be over the moon, if she were still here and knew I was doing wood art.”
His own work began with a single pelican. “I looked at what I had created, and it felt like magic, I was hooked,” said Philips with a twinkle in his eyes.
Philips has completed hundreds of tree sculptures, pleasing his clients, and delighting motorists and pedestrians who chance upon his pieces. “We love our tree sculpture,” said Beaver Frey, one of the many Galveston motorists who have happened upon Philips’ work. The two-finger peace symbol is one of Philips’ most recent creations and can be seen on Post Office street in Galveston.
Starting with a can of spray paint, Philips marks where he will begin his cuts on what was once a viable tree. From there, he uses a chainsaw and begins his creation. “After carving out my concept with a chainsaw, I use a grinder and any other tool that I think will work to finish the piece,” he explained.
Philips is a humble man and doesn’t believe he is more talented than anyone else. “I’m just lucky,” he said. “Everyone is an artist. Just mowing the yard can be art. When you’re finished, you step back and admire your work.”
Spectators at Philips’ wood carving pageantry are often entertained with his storytelling skills. Sometimes his stories are about his art, and sometimes his stories cover history. For instance, if you ask him how old he is, (he’s 63), he might tell you about Sputnik, because he was born the year (1957) Sputnik was launched.
“We had so much fun watching him and listening to his stories he made us laugh a lot,” said client Gina Frey.
Brimming with creations in varying stages of completion Philips’ studio reflects his motto, “make more stuff.” Each piece is waiting for him to complete and deliver to a client, an art show or an art gallery.
One of his recently completed studio creations, The Reluctant Chaperone, which is on display at the Rene Wiley Gallery in Galveston, came from a huge Brazilian tree.
“I know the history of every piece of wood I use for my carvings,” said Philips.
Born in Bellaire, Philips and his family moved to Tyler for a while. They came back to Houston, and he graduated from Memorial High School. He has lived most of his life in Texas and is currently living in the Clear Lake area.