Phil Sandusky

About the Artist
New Orleans artist Phil Sandusky paints a portrait of New Orleans as it is today, from the shady streets of the Carrollton area to the wide boulevards of the Central Business District.  He scouts neighborhoods uptown, in the Garden District, and in the Faubourg Marigny, looking for street corners where he sees "poetry" in the cast of light and in striking combinations of color and texture.  Sandusky does not, however, always paint picturesque spaces.  Instead, working exclusively en plein air, he captures the city's blight just as much as its beauty.  Well-known for his post-Katrina landscapes, Sandusky continues to lend a sense of perpetuity to typically overlooked urban activity in scenes such as local demolition projects, but street scenes of New Orleans' vernacular architecture continue to distinguish his oeuvre.

At the heart of his artistic philosophy, Sandusky is most concerned with the perception of the physical world as it relates to the sense of sight.  Keeping in mind that the human eye is in constant motion, he adheres to the tenets of Gestalt psychology whereby the whole is different than the sum of its parts.  Rather than paint the intricacies of his cityscapes—details that the eye cannot possibly perceive all at once—Sandusky concentrates on portraying the overall essence of the picture by focusing on color values, the shape of his brushstrokes, and ultimately, the accurate portrayal of form and daylight through color patterns.  The viewer uses Sandusky's impression of a scene as a visual cue and then instinctually uses his or her unique memories and expectations to conceptualize whatever details were omitted from the architecture, streets, and gardens.  Much like the French Impressionists, Sandusky manages an ever-changing subject by focusing on the fleeting moment.

Phil Sandusky also teaches figure painting and landscape painting at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts.  He is the author of four books, including New Orleans En Plein Air (2003), Painting Katrina (2007), Jacksonville Through a Painter's Eyes (2008), and New Orleans Impressionist Cityscapes (2012).  In 2012 he was also featured in the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities publication A Unique Slant of Light: The Bicentennial History of Art in Louisiana.

Artist's Statement
My main objective as a painter is to heighten peoples' awareness and appreciation of the visual experience. In achieving this objective my main concern has been to understand the mechanics of human vision and how it relates to painting.

Many representational artists want to reproduce the image that focuses on the retina of the eye. But human vision is different than the image. What we see is constantly changing, even when the physical subject is unchanging.  When we first move our eyes around a scene, we only peripherally notice smaller parts of the subject such as people, trees, cars, etc. At first, the only visual information we take in for these individual parts is what is needed to form our perception of the whole. As time passes our attention is drawn in to one of these individual parts. As we focus all attention on this part it becomes the whole. The number of apparent patterns that comprise this part, their apparent shapes and colors, are more complex and entirely different when we focus all attention on the part than when we noticed the part peripherally as a component of a bigger view.

I believe that when representational artists paint by focusing all attention on each part separately, no matter how well they plan, they may reproduce the image perfectly, but they can't help but to compromise their statement of the real human visual experience of the whole subject. The fundamental principle of gestalt is that "the whole is different than the sum of its parts". Throughout art history there are countless quickly executed gestural sketches made as preliminary studies that are more effective as a whole than larger more articulated paintings of the same subject. I have found this quickly executed, simple statement to be the most effective way for me to explore the real, transient nature of the visual experience. I not only limit the amount of time I spend on a painting, but also use relatively large brushes and small canvases. These limitations encourage simplification and thinking about the parts only in so far as they relate to the whole.

I also work exclusively from life. Not only is the first hand visual experience completely different and infinitely richer than looking at a photograph, but its complexity and fleeting nature creates adversity that makes me strong. I am forced to learn to simplify, develop my visual memory, better understand the subject as a whole, and become a better painter and draughtsman in general.

In my best work I have captured the fleeting moment, produced paintings that resonate and come to life as the viewer moves back away from the canvas, and provided the viewer with some insight into the nature of their own visual perception.

Choice of subject is of limited importance to me, but I seem to gravitate most often to painting from the landscape and human figure. While I enjoy landscape painting expeditions to such places as Florida beaches and North Carolina mountains, the subject I most often deal with is the ordinary urban environment in which I live. I don't usually seek magnificent subjects to paint because I believe the greatest potential to heighten peoples appreciation of the visual experience lies in showing them the magnificence in the seemingly mundane, ordinary things they take for granted.

Updated December, 2012.

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