Updated: Apr 20, 2020
I recently got to sit down and have a chat with California based artist Phil McGaughy which I’m very excited to release, for the first time, in video! McGaughy got his BFA in painting back in 1992, but it wasn’t exactly a thrilling journey, he’d bounced around departments, worked across multiple mediums and just sort of landed in painting. For the next 10 or so years he ventured away from art and pursued music having, as he puts it, “a little bit of success, and a big amount of failure.” But during the music days, he found work as a studio hand for sculptor Lou Pearson, so he hadn’t ventured too far from art. Working as a studio hand kept him close to art, but derailed his personal practice as he was working on someone else’s vision, but after Pearson passed in 2005 McGaughy decided he really had to start making again. He began taking these driftwood sticks that he’d collected on hikes and building these intricate structures around them with wooden dowels. These things are really interesting, like a framework or scaffolding holding the structure of the stick together, the two pushing and pulling off of each other. He’ll downplay the intricacy a bit in the interview, but as a former architecture student who’s done a lot of stupid work with dowels, I know how hard it is to be accurate with this stuff and these pieces are not easy.
From here, McGaughy started working in faux finish painting, working out from white walls with these blobs, bulges and shapes. After working in faux finish for a while and picking up some traction, but not being totally sure where to head next, he decided to pursue his MFA. This is when he ventured from California to the University of Delaware, and where I first met him. At first he was doing a lot of the same faux finish type work, then the shapes gradually came all the way off of the wall and venturing off into nature, a reoccuring theme in McGaughy’s work. These white shapes out in the world operated as a piece of the gallery wall venturing out into the world and interacting with nature, escaping the harsh white walls of a typical space, but not leaving it all behind.
In his second year at UD, McGaughy got a lot more adventurous with his work. White had become stale so he started researching colors and he found out about the intricacies of green and how our eye, as well as a camera’s eye, can pick up more shades of green than any other color (wild right?). So the shapes out in nature started to become green, he ventured into video, recording these shapes operating in nature, the green operating as a green screen that he could manipulate further in post production. Then he started breaking the wall off of the wall, building these wood structures and applying his own faux finish styles walls to them. These structures were massive, taking up the whole room, and, to go even further, McGaughy started to manipulate the light in the room, project onto the walls, mixing his sculpture, faux finish, and video work all into one incredible installation. There’s such complexity and detail in this work, from McGaughy’s relationship with nature turning into video elements, to the combination of sculpture and faux finish, to the complete interactive experience you get with each piece, that I could never fully explain it myself. So you’ve just got to watch the full interview above to get a real peek into what this work means.
Since leaving UD in 2016, McGaughy has ventured back to California where he works at a startup working to engineer production of mycelium, a vegatative part of a fungus, to be used as a synthetic, replacing things like leather and much more. This project actually began as an art project and could potentially become a world altering synthetic, pretty wild and definitely worth hearing him talk about in full detail. He’s also still pursuing music and has been revisiting some of his old video work and adding a performance element to the installations. McGaughy’s work is a truly exciting series of ideas and experiments that come together to form full experiences for each viewer. This interview was an absolute pleasure to do and I hope we make it out to California at some point to work with Phil some more. You can find Phil’s full body of work at https://www.philmcgaughy.com/index.html and on instagram @philmcgaughy. We hope you enjoyed this interview and the video format, we hope to release more content like this that’s fun to watch, listen to and spares you some reading!