Like Andy Warhol before him, artist Scot Phillips creates celebrity portraits of silver-screen actresses based on dot-pattern photographs. Unlike Warhol, though, Phillips doesn’t silkscreen his pop-art images. Instead, he painstakingly paints them by hand. Every dot comes from his brush.
It’s a bit of an obsession.
“It takes hundreds and hundreds of hours to paint some of these things,” said Phillips, a Washington High School graduate who is the Massillon Museum’s operations officer.
“It’s almost mathematical, almost masochistic,” the artist, 29, said about his meticulous process. “I’m process-oriented. I like that extra effort.”
Travelers on Route 21 through Massillon should be familiar with Phillips’ portraits of silent-screen actress Lillian Gish, who summered in Massillon often during her youth. Commissioned by the city of Massillon in 2009, he handpainted Gish on three sides of a cinder-block pump station just feet away from the highway.
Phillips’ biggest project to date was an enormous mural paying tribute to baseball star—and Massillon native— Tommy Henrich, a right-fielder for the New York Yankees in the 1940s. With the help of two assistants, he painted the mural on a stucco wall on the side of Massillon’s Elum Music Co., also visible from Route 21. It took three months in the summer of 2012.
“Standing next to that gigantic wall was definitely intimidating,” Phillips said about the 18-foot-tall by 63-foot-wide space he covered with high-gloss paint. To make things manageable, he breaks up his designs into a grid, and paints small sections at a time.
“The Elum family paid for it, and I’ve known them for years,” he said. “I was very nervous. It was something I definitely didn’t want to screw up.” Phillips estimates he spent 600 hours painting the mural and his assistants spent 400 more hours.
To Phillips’ great dismay, when an anti-graffiti coating was put over the high-gloss finished mural, the wrong product was used and the coating, supposed to be clear, was a translucent milky white.
“I thought it was ruined,” Phillips said. Sherwin-Williams, whose coating was used, paid him to repair the mural the following summer, which took about 350 hours.
Phillips’ other large mural of note in Massillon is on an outside wall at Art Bomb Tattoo on N. Erie Street. Measuring about 5 by 15 feet, it depicts Audrey II, the man-eating plant from the movie musical “Little Shop of Horrors,” the favorite film of shop owner T.J. Heaton.
“I probably worked on it for five months. I’d do a little section at a time,” Phillips said. He did the painting in exchange for tattoos.
“I would love to do a mural right in the heart of downtown (Massillon),” he said, as a contemporary pop contrast to “the beautifully painted, uber-traditional, trompe l’oeil murals we have here.”
Until that commission comes, Phillips is working on smaller pieces. He has the Creature from the Black Lagoon on a door, young Katharine Hepburn on the back of a guitar, and actresses Clara Bow, Theda Bara and Louise Brooks on pieces of customized furniture and wall pieces of wood, etched glass and steel.
“I really like doing the murals, but I want to have art shows,” said Phillips, who lives in south Akron.
In Very Fine Arts, read our interviews with visual artists, performers and an art teacher who talk work, life and why sometimes work is life.