I have always been fascinated, inspired, and even sometimes baffled by how we as humans try to find our "place" in society. How do we express ourselves as both unique individuals and acceptable members of society without falling prey to extremes of orthodoxy or radicalism? As a woman, I am extremely interested in how women face these challenges, especially when it comes to sexuality. Can you be a sexual being while also a loving mother, daughter, sister, or wife? Can you express yourself sexually and still maintain your dignity? Can you be sexual and love God, and will she/he love you back? What is the difference between being confident in your sexuality and becoming a prop for objectification? This is what inspires me.
Painting the human figure is the best way I can illustrate and comment on these issues. I believe that painting the nude or the partial nude is one of the strongest ways to communicate. Nudity in art can express feelings of confidence, sensuality, and power; while at the same time it can also convey vulnerability, confusion, and even subjugation. The nude is not always for the faint-hearted. My work usually incorporates images from both imagination and reality. I utilize photographs, live models, and imagined figures. I want my subjects to look as if they could walk off the canvas, but I have no desire for strict realism or perfect anatomical depiction. I like my images have a bit of the fantastic in them. I want the viewer to look at my paintings and feel excitement, enticement, and maybe even a little confusion. If my work encourages the audience to experience or think about my subjects in a new or unexpected way, then I have accomplished my goal.
I often use myself as a model but I will also depict people who I admire for the way that they confront daily challenges of identity and acceptance. I always ask permission before I paint someone, so my subjects are always people whom I have met or know. They can be other artists or friends. They can be people who deal with these identity struggles in the public arena or quietly in their every-day lives. Like most of us, my subjects often struggle with finding the right way to fit into today's society. They are trying as honestly as they can, often through art, music, poetry, or other forms of self-expression, to create their own space within it. This is why I choose to paint them.
Eleanor Phillips grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she practiced drawing and painting from an early age. Always fascinated by living creatures, her first drawings were copies of horses from the covers of Walter Farley's Black Stallion books. Phillips' interest in both art and living creatures grew throughout her youth and college years. She graduated in 1992 with a BA in Studio Art and a minor in Biology from Sweet Briar College, where anatomy and morphology classes complimented figure-drawing classes. She studied painting and printmaking under Professors Lauren Oliver and Laura Pharis, and she also took sculpture classes with Professor Joe Monk. Taking many classes in Equine studies, she was able to deepen her understanding and love of horses. Horses continue to make the occasional appearance in her art today.
After graduating from Sweet Briar College, Phillips studied with Mark Rhodes at the University of Richmond, creating bronze sculpture. She then moved to Southern Pines, North Carolina, to concentrate on horse competitions and a career with horses. Since moving to North Carolina she has also continued her focus on making art, taking classes from local artists such Paris Alexander of Raleigh, North Carolina, under whom she took stone carving and figure drawing. At her farm in North Carolina, Phillips rides and cares for horses while also creating art.
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