Roger Phillips was born in New York City in 1930. His education as a metalsmith began on Long Island at age 12 as a blacksmith’s helper. He has worked in metal ever since.
His first exposure to art was at the Woodstock Country School in Vermont where he studied with Francis Foster, a teacher from Black Mountain College who ran his classes on the Bauhaus model.
Phillips graduated from Bard College in 1953. He studied drawing and design at the New School and metal fabrication at the Jewish Museum in New York. He is a past president of the Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America.
His studio/workshop is located in Stuyvesant, New York about 100 miles north of New York City.
A constructivist, Phillips is in private and public collections throughout the United States.
A large portion of his work is kinetic, made of stainless steel and brightly painted aluminum plate. Many pieces are commissioned for specific outdoor sites. Maquettes for some sculptures have been replicated in small editions.
Phillips has showed at Marisa del Re Gallery, New York, NY; The Monte Carlo Biennale, Monaco; Roche Court, Salisbury England, Courtesy of the New Arts Centre, London; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Hudson Opera House, Hudson NY; Chesterwood, Stockbridge, MA; Simon Gallery, Morristown, NJ; Weber Fine Art, Scarsdale, NY, Greenwich, CT and Chatham, NY; Taylor | Graham, New York, NY; Morgan Lehman Gallery, Lakeville, CT; Carol Craven Gallery, Vineyard Haven, MA., The Thompson-Giroux Gallery, Chatham, NY.
Permanent public and corporate installations are: the Steinberg Conference Center, Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; The American College, Bryn Mawr, PA; Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; Brown Rudnick Berlack Israels, LLP, New York, NY, Goizueta Business School, Emory University, Atlanta, GA; Egelston Children’s Hospital, Emory University, Atlanta, GA; Schiffer Publishing Corp, Atglen, PA; Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY.; George Washington Carver Houses, 100th Street and Madison Avenue, New York, NY.
His work can be seen at Taylor | Graham , 32 East 67th Street in New York City.
The spirit of the work is captured in this passage from Plato’s Philebus Dialog:
“By beauty of shapes I do not mean, as most people would suppose, the beauty of living figures or of pictures… I mean straight lines and circles, and shapes, plane or solid, made from them by lathe, ruler and square. These are not, like other things, beautiful relatively, but always and absolutely.”
Catalogue Essay – Roger Phillips, June 2005
Shakespeare says the object of art is ‘to hold a mirror up to nature’.
I believe this, but that raises the question: what part of nature does
constructivist art hold the mirror up to? I have always been fascinated by grids and repetition. They have a sacred quality. I think they echo the most fundamental aspect of life: the ability of nature to replicate itself and create order.
In my non-kinetic work the grids are obvious. In the kinetic pieces the rigid stainless steel ‘frame’ is minimally grid-like. It is a strong environment whose existence allows the discs or squares or triangles to move in their own orbit. They are not totally free. They are free within limits, as are we all.
My work is never created to illustrate anything. I simply try to make something beautiful. The insight comes afterwards. That is the way I would like the viewer to see it.
– Roger Phillips
The beauty of Roger Phillips’s sculpture is experienced as soon as you see it. Simplicity and purity are achieved through meticulous engineering and craftsmanship. His vision is elegant, positive and decidedly upbeat. His own words reveal the inner spirit of the work.
Several influences are obvious: the bright forms, although more geometric, are reminiscent of Alexander Calder; the smoothness of motion pays homage to George Rickey; and the dialogue between graphic and three dimensional work refers to Ellsworth Kelly.
Various kinetic sculptors use slightly different methods to create motion: in Calder’s work the moving elements are attached from the top, Rickey’s are pendulums, Tim Prentice uses ballast, Lin Emery connects at the bottom, and Pedro de Movellan sometimes uses magnets. This gives a very different effect to each. In contrast, Phillips has the moving elements held at top and bottom so that each moves in a 360 degree orbit around a vertical axis.
There is a provocative contrast between the rigidity of the frame and the fluidity of the moving elements that seemingly disappear and reappear as they revolve, revealing the surrounding landscape through the negative space. In motion the sculptures appear light and airy as their glossy, colored surfaces reflect their natural surroundings.
Phillips’ sculpture recalls Plato’s description of the beauty of geometric form: “…these are not, like other things, beautiful relatively, but always and absolutely.”
– Wendy McDaris, 2005
Wendy McDaris is an independent curator of art and cultural critic living in Hudson, New York.