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Philip Trussell is a painter and a poet who lives in Austin, where he also mentors artists, writers, and other truants. Born in South Texas in 1943, he was trained as a painter at The University of Texas at Austin and at Yale School of Art and Architecture. In the 1970s, Trussell worked with Harvey Brown at Frontier Press in West Newbury, Massachusetts, drawing ads and designing books for Stan Brakhage, Al Glover, and Ed Dorn, with whom he became lifelong friends. Trussell returned to Austin in 1982, and has since become a sort of godfather to the outsider artists and literary scenes there, hosting salons, guiding the reading of counter-academic students, and connecting spiritual isolatoes like himself. On Dorn’s tip, he worked closely with Skanky Possum Press and made art for their publications for over a decade. In 2012, he started writing discontinuous sentences as a daily practice. He soon began arranging them into sequences on postcards, and mailing them out to map what he calls a ‘speculative geography’ of his fellow dog-paddlers in the river of shit.

Philip Trussell Painting in His Studio, March, 2011

Philip Trussell Painting in His Studio, March, 2011

“Trussell, who is in his 50s, evokes as much energy and youth in his artwork as a 25-year-old guitarist at a Friday night gig. The sheer volume of material and mind-boggling quality he manages to produce every year are those of an artist half his age. This year’s show includes more than 50 new canvases, most of which have been painted since January. The artist chooses not to title any of his works, content instead to group enough paintings in one area to create a theme (I counted four), leaving titles to the imagination of the audience. In a handwritten note to the viewers, Trussell hints at his technique: ‘What matters is the space and time yielded by the study. The paintings are instruments to be played.’ For all his lively output, Trussell remains exact and adept at his craft.”
– Austin Chronicle, 1997

The artist’s statement below was made for a show at Tom’s Tabooley in Austin, TX, opening Sunday, September 23rd 2012. As it turned out it ran for three months, closing January 2, 2013. The Viols of Austin and the Faux Paws performed music at the opening.

Artist’s Statement

I was born in Kingsville, Texas in 1943. I started painting when I was 14, guessing Mexico City was the center of the art world. That would have been 1957 — the tail fins on our Plymouth convertible were spectacular.

Between 1961 and 1965 I worked toward a BFA in painting and a minor in art history at the University of Texas in Austin. My mentor was Robert Levers, protestant like myself and mystical: he taught that good drawing was mysterious. I agreed, and followed up.

At Yale University from 1965 to 1967 I worked toward an MFA in painting and a minor in art history. Most of my time there was spent adapting aspects of experimental filmmaking to my painting, instead of paying much attention to the fashionable avant garde hysterias. Andy Warhol’s multiple silkscreen prints on canvas chimed well with the works of “underground” film makers Stan Brakhage and Jonas Mekas. Brakhage’s hand-made 8 millimeter work in particular reoriented my sense of the possibilities open to painting: cognitive thresholds in projected light. I also stududied with George Kubler the art of the pre-Columbian cultures of the Americas.

One practice learned at Yale continues as I turn 69, all these years later: work in series, don’t do just one, do as many as seem possible to outrun precious and egotistical attachment. A series may run anywhere between 20 and 200 before exhaustion sets in. The point, while working, is to become completely lost in the ongoing unfolding. Uncertainty is key, and suspension of criticism. The jazz standard “Let’s Get Lost” says it all. Good things are found, not forced.

Many of [the] paintings [in this show] are divided into panels. They look something like movie storyboards or film clips or contact sheets. The imagery is calculatedly low-grade, gritty, bleached-out and hard to read. There is a good deal of image completion required of the viewer: Much of what you see is what you project.

Another set of paintings explores the effect of drawn black lines on complexes of color heavily applied by painting knife. How a simple black outline tilts the cognitive processes at work in perceiving an image, how it actually changes the color of shapes how it hovers between annotation and denotation, and how it determines possible readings while at the same time subverting them — these are all dynamic possibilities. Mapping, writing, graphing and charting come together here.

One of the influences in these line works is the drawing tradition of the Maya in Central America, works dating from the 6th and 7th centuries AD. Screenfold books, cylinder vases and large platters display dazzling brush-drawn images of gods, heroes, dancers, ball players, warriors and local rulers among spoken words in brilliant hieroglyphs.

Another series is a selection of 12 black and white drawings — like stage sets without actors. There is an internal logic in the way they present, fold, slide and maneuver to make provisory places, imaginary, where events might be enacted.

Cutting across the various series are some common traits — a landscape structure — ground plane, middle distance, glimpsed horizon, and sky. This if from years of appreciating JMW Turner, the early 19th century landscape painter, and from studying Eugene Atget, the early 20th century Parisian photographer. Another hero is George Méliès, French film magician.

Part of a painter’s task is to translate any and all influences into something original. An artist’s originality consists in broad and deep awareness of the achievements of others accompanied by a power of reduction and adaptation in producing a necessary formulation.”

Additional Artist’s Statements

Decomposition is thought to serve out time better than composition. Perhaps it does.

Values are recognized as they are rendered extinct by progress.

Imagine a politics worth our disappointment.

Etymology is theology.

Since the invention of photography painting has become a Hermetic art.

If you aren’t painting for love, don’t paint.

In hindsight any belief is due for a makeover.

The postmodern situation isn’t subject to location.

My answering machine is there for robocalls.

The best things in life are obsolete. They are also absolute.

Painting is no part of social media.

Social functions are for the socialized to demonstrate themselves to themselves.

Paintings are not called painteds. They have no past tense.

Painting is finding out what the materials are up to.


“Philip is the venerable torchbearer of quality and quantity among Austin painters. A prolific painter who has shunned modernist takes on art to produce a vibrant world of drama and space unfolding before the viewer’s eyes.”
– Michael Schliefke

Philip Trussell in his Studio, March 2010

Philip Trussell in his Studio, March, 2010

“The ruins of the future can be yours today. William Blake told us what is now proved was once only imagined. We live in the wreckage of intentions our ancestors manifested. The camera’s most arcane trick is to lift locale from itself, and us with it. We become ghosts having existence independent of impactedness in personal history, including proper identification and home address. If we are not already ghosts in our lives in the twenty-first century, we certainly long to be. Electronic media make it so whether we know it or not.”
– Philip Trussell on his own photo montage work

Also see Notes from 3/30/2010 Conversation with Philip Trussell in which Zack Tuck documents a sweeping discussion about Stan Brakhage, Olson, Goethe, Isaac Newton, Aleister Crowley and more.

15 Comment to “About”

  1. Scott Patterson says:

    Hi, Phil. Wanted to add you to my Linkedin network but had no email address. Just found this site. You might be interested to know that at least some of your Ohio University Zanesville students soldiered on in the art field, either as teachers or functioning artists. Some better than others. I recall one occasion when you had me look out a window at a yellow post, and asked me what I saw. I saw a post; you taught me it was only shape and color and to walk away from thingness. Scott.

    • admin says:

      Hi Scott,

      Philip’s not really jacked in to the internets, but he does check this site every once in a while. I’ll convey your message when I speak with him.

      In my mind your message resonates with the way he still sees “things.” His paintings generally start out as shapes and colors which only become things in the mind of the viewer, whether it’s Philip himself or other viewers. He never seems to mind when people see his works differently than he does.

      Jake (Philip’s son)

  2. Jake
    I happened onto his site (don’t really know how)and was blown back in time. I knew Phillip way back when in Kingsville (his sister, Mary, and I were in the same class (1960). Phillip did some incredible pen and ink drawings for me when we had some hokey Halloween deal of some sort. Wish now I had saved them (they may be in the attic – who knows). Always felt he would be a known artist. I also really liked your Grandfather, Jake (your namesake I presume). Jake the Fake – what a guy. Knew jazz better than ANYONE.
    Thanks for the memory trip and say hi to your Dad.
    Don Brillhart

  3. margit ilika says:

    Phillip via Jake
    I have felt a kind of boost by reading your artists statement above.for many reasons but especially in reference to working in series. My bfa & mfa are in painting & printmaking which is how I came to work in series. I don’t go out much now because I am determined to follow up on the series begun in the 80’s.but something you said above really struck me, “all these years later. .”

  4. Erin ODonnell says:

    Is there a way to be notified of any and all exhibits of Philip’s?
    I would greatly appreciate this information.
    Thank you.
    Erin ODonnell

  5. stephanie aka SAM says:

    Hi, Finally got off my bottom and decided to look you up.
    Bought a painting done 1996 looks like nudes descending and ascending from a dark place. Purple plays a rich theme.

    I bought in 2005 in the Roaring Fork Valley…..my home since 1972.

    Enjoy getting lost in the mystery and inside conflict.


  6. Ione Moran says:

    I still like your quotes, and I like your choice of Best Friends too.

  7. Doug Lowell says:

    Big hello to Jake and to Phillip. This is Doug Lowell, and we were close friends in Newburyport. Our conversations, Phillip, led me to the Poetics Program at New College in the 80’s and to where I am in photography today. I still draw upon those times, and the paintings of yours around my house and at my office remind me of your studio. How lovely to see the work you’ve been making. I hope life is rich and delightful.



  8. Dan Sowards says:

    I took art classes with you at Ohio University branch and never got a chance to thank you for changing my life and directing me toward becoming an artist. You influenced so many of us at that time. Fresh out of Yale, I don’t think you knew what a great teacher you were. You had a way of making us discover things inside of us we never knew existed. It went way beyond art, you opened up our minds. Thanks from all of us.

  9. bruce says:

    hello, decided to look you up, since I was given two of your paintings by a person from Austin. both were done in 1999. 1st 2-12-99 is a nude on couch,(in browns). 2nd 5-18-99 is a abstract has always been the topic of conversations, to which way it is to be hung. I personally love looking at both for hours some time. thank you,B

  10. Jim anderson says:

    I knew your dad just after you were born in Newburyport. I used to take classes with him in cambridge at the art center. I visited Phillip several times in Austin.
    Wondering how he is hoping to hear that he is still is productive in his apt just off the downtown of Austin.
    I met a lady whose name was Sharon in 1999 who told me I could always contact her to know how he was but I lost track over the years as life’s pace and politic quickened.
    I knew your mother Ruth quite well as well. She always spoke well of Phillip even tho he had to go and do what it was in him to do.
    I would like to meet you some day. Please let me know of your father.
    Jim Anderson
    333 glenway st
    Madison, wi. 53705

  11. Justin Kapust says:

    I picked up a pastel titled “WATER BED STORE AT BIG BUY IN NATICK MASS. “. From 1977, great condition, great colors. I’d love to know more about it. I live in the Natick area now, I have it in my entryway, people ask me all the time about it, I don’t have answers unfortunately

  12. Susanna Bond says:

    Hey I am your neighbor with the chihuahua at 2406 Southland.
    I would like to get to know you better. We share mutual friends and you have met my fabulous daughter, Vanessa Breeding who went to school with John Brickley
    Please call me. My number is5129145608 and I would like to have you over for a drink and conversation.

  13. Just saying hello old friend !

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