In conversation with Cliff Phillips

It was back in 2019 during a visit to Manchester’s notoriously street art-laden Northern Quarter that we first stumbled across the work of Cliff Phillips.  We were instantly taken by Phillips’ paste-ups featuring slightly grotesque expressionist skulls and skeletal figures as they jostled amongst the works of DPH24, Martha Hope, Dmstff and Face the Strange.  In 2019 and we encountered another stunning piece of Cliff’s work but this time in East London. He doesn’t exactly go out of his way to promote himself but we have tracked Cliff down to find out a bit more about Cliff Phillips the artist and ask him a few questions…

The Street Art Directory – Hi Cliff.  Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Cliff Phillips
 – Hello!  I was Born in 1975 and am a proud Englishman from the county of Lancashire.  Although only the first five years of my life were spent in this decade I do think the atmosphere in the UK throughout the 1970’s is what may be responsible for my considerable bleak conspiratorial outlook on life! 

“I just figured it out” – vibrant paste-up in Leonard Street, London.

TSAD – What is your background as an artist?  
Cliff – I was educated at possibly one of the finest education establishments in Lancashire!  There I received a truly wonderful comprehensive school tutoring in art which equated to pissing around for approximately an hour a week. The end result was an ‘F’ in GSCE Art. This was my only GSCE, I might add.

TSAD – Are you a full-time artist?  What else do you do to keep the wolf from the door?
Cliff – I’m not full time, no, and to be honest with you I try not to pretend to be either – if you know what I mean. I paint as and when I can which suits me fine as I like to put my energy into other things.  Should this change in the future, and the opportunity arise, then that would be something I would need to think about.  But again, being honest with you, I think there are many more people deserved of becoming full time artists than me. As far as wolves and doors I would recommend reading “Who moved my Cheese[the best-selling book by Dr Spencer Johnson].

“The pretender”. © Cliff Phillips.

TSAD – What is your preferred medium/media? 
Cliff – I started off, as most people do when they want to start out painting, using shop bought art supplies: canvases, acrylics, oil paints, etc.  After some time I found that the oil paint was definitely a no no for me as I got it everywhere and I found that the acrylic paints were not opaque enough for the finish that I wanted to achieve.  Anyway, I had read somewhere about painters in the early and mid 20th Century who were skint and couldn’t afford genuine artists’ materials so they used what they could get their hands on.  Hardboard, usually from the back of cupboards and other pieces of furniture, was primed and used as canvases and household paint was used as an alternative to oil paints.  These things were more freely available for them at the time and they also came at a fraction of the cost.  So this is what I tried and I never looked back. I find it works great for me, and the colour palette available is always on trend – and all this for a fraction of the price of the art shop stuff. Recently though due to space limitations I have been having to experiment using acrylic paint pens. It’s not the same has throwing paint on a canvas but for now it’s what I have to do, but with that said I also have been pleasantly pleased by the results.

Distressed but still impressive large paste-up in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

TSAD – When did you start doing street art – and why?  Does it have a message? 
Cliff – I had wanted to do street art for years but it was only in 2018 that I put my first pieces up. Obviously I had seen my fair share of graffiti growing up but I saw my first piece of what we now commonly know as street or urban art, thanks mainly in part to that Banksy chap, whilst working in London back in 2004/05. It was a street-worn piece of pasted up paper that read, “H.M.P. London, Open Prison, I.D. Must Be Carried at All Times“.  The Artist was Dr. D (how prophetic was he?!).  It’s funny how things turn out as it was Dr.D himself who would give me the nudge I needed to put my own stuff up on the streets.  As for does it have a message, I think people will see my street art and take from it what they will. I suppose that I hope to reach more people and get them thinking something opposite to that of the enforced narrative.  Sadly though it seems that street art is now being turned into something that resembles the shite shovelled by the mainstream media.  You only have to look around at the amount of virtue signalling pieces that now regularly appear on the walls.

TSAD – I’ve seen an eye motif used in street art and on the rear of framed paintings.  What is the relevance of this logo? 
 – It’s a reminder that we are constantly (I mean this literally) being watched and monitored but don’t worry folks because “if you’re doing nothing wrong you have nothing to fear”.  Mwahahahaha!!

Cliff’s eye motif.

TSAD – Where in the world can your street art be found? 
Cliff – Mainly in Manchester.  Back in 2018 me and my good friend the artist Dmstff went to London and met with a few of the local urban decorators.  The response was really good and every intention was made to build upon this and continue to keep putting up my art around various cities in the UK but unfortunately this wasn’t meant to be and the art was temporarily put on hold.

Paste-up in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.

TSAD – Which mainstream and/or street artists inspire & excite you, and why? 
Cliff – I get excited at very little these days but I have always respected the work put out by Dr. D.  I really like the art of D*Face, an Italian London based Artist named Renato Hunto and the stencilling skills of the Franco German artist L.E.T..  As far as mainstream art goes like most things in life some is good some is bad but probably none of it really matters in the big scheme of things. Just to add that I do get excited by books. I am a self confessed proper nerd though, I will only buy first edition first prints unless it’s something I really want to read or simply the price of a ‘first’ is out of my reach.  I do enjoy getting lost in a good story and it never ceases to amaze me at how an author is able to put together such rich detail within the space of a few hundred pages. As to what excites me about books, well everything really: the art on the dust jackets, opening a new book for the first time, the weight of the book – and that moment when I read the last passage in a book that I have enjoyed. I shall very much miss them when they are outlawed!

Cliff’s “The right to liberty” alongside works by Subdude, DRT, DPH24, Donk and others. © Cliff Phillips

TSAD – What would you like to achieve with your art?  What does success as an artist look like for Cliff Phillips?
Cliff – Probably not what most artists would hope for or even class as success.  I have never painted for self-gain.  I am not rich or wealthy or even well off and yes of course any extra cash gained by selling a painting here or there is always appreciated and always comes in handy but painting for me is something else.  My style of painting came about after years of struggling to find my own style but with that said I don’t think anyone is truly original in the art world. The style came unexpectedly and at a time when I least expected it. The act of painting was, and is, a release. I find painting for the most part hard work and an achievement for me would be painting something that I was happy with (which rarely happens).  I get the most joy from hoping that those who do own a piece of my work or see a painting or a piece on the street get some form of enjoyment from it.

TSAD – Away from street art have you had solo or group exhibitions?
Cliff – Again this is difficult for me as I have never openly promoted or pushed my paintings. I was invited to take part in a joint exhibition in London at The Crows Nest Gallery in 2018.  This was at a time when interest had started to happen in my work.  I was selling quite a few paintings both in the UK and abroad.  I had just had a painting published on the front of a book by an American writer [see below] and a couple of London galleries were showing some interest but sadly my Dad became poorly so the art was postponed until further notice.

Cliff Phillips’ art of the cover of Robin Markwica’s book – “Emotional Choices – how the logic of affect shapes coercive diplomacy” (Oxford, 2018).

TSAD – Do you have a website people can visit to see & buy your work?
Cliff – I don’t, and I’m not on social media.  I don’t even own a mobile phone.  To be honest with you I am somewhat of a hermit.

TSAD – Where next for Cliff?  What can we look forward to in the future?
Cliff – Who knows?  I try to take it one day at a time. I will keep painting, keep spreading my message until the day comes when having an alternative opinion is against the law….oops, sorry, that has already happened. 

Framed studio work by Cliff Phillips.

You can see more of Cliff Phillips’ work on his gallery page on The Street Art Directory website.

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