Not many can honestly say that they have risked life and limb for their art, however for Philip Grey, art is so much more than a job or a passion, but a way of life. An adventurous exploration of the planet’s extremities and a search for adrenaline-surging experiences, requiring grit, guts and a hardy canvas.
Upon viewing Gray’s vibrant and colourful works you are transported to some of the most extreme places on Earth. However, what you may not realise upon first impression is the extremes that the artist went to in order to capture the view. Why paint from a photograph or a memory, when you can paint live on site? By the same token, why not at 20,000 feat in the sky whilst plummeting towards the earth?
From skydiving in Ireland to cave diving in Mexico and standing upon an active volcano in Iceland, trekking the rainforest in Borneo and risking frost bite at Everest’s Base Camp. There is no limit to the depths or heights he will go to in search of inspiration for his paintings and to unleash creativity, with no pre-conceived idea of how it will turn out until absorbing the energy of the destination.
Philip Gray was born in Cork, Ireland, where he first discovered his passion for art and nature. Hailing from a family background of artists and sailors, there is no surprise that he was enticed into a world of creativity and adventure. He utilises his expeditions through dramatic natural landscapes as a ‘stimulus to explore new worlds of emotional expression’ and experience a ‘new source of energy’ that he attempts to translate into visual form with his art.
Philip has an innate love of water, and the diving skills he adopted whilst in the Irish Navy allow him to travel to places that nobody has ever painted before, capturing the surreal light and colours in his art, so unlike those above the water.
One of his most inspiring expeditions took Philip to China on a search for the ancient, lost city, Shi Cheng (Lion City). The city had been sacrificed and flooded in the process of constructing a hydroelectric dam to form Qiandao Lake in 1959. The 600 year old sunken civilisation was recently rediscovered and it is here that Philip Gray travelled to to paint his ‘Into the Lion’s Den’ collection.
In order to create the paintings in this collection, Philip not only had to make the lengthy journey to the other side of the world, but also had to train for 2 years in mixed-gas diving in order to stay under water long enough to paint the well preserved time capsule. Using oil paints on canvas, Gray painted the city 40 metres underwater with a vibrant palette of colour, capturing the exquisite detail of the stonework and even depicting the lion heads that still adorn the city’s gateways.
Philip also ventured to Antarctica in 2013, where he found himself sat alongside penguins and seals whilst transferring the dramatic natural formations of the surrounding environment onto the canvas in front of him. During this trip he also went diving, where, submerged, he painted in subzero temperatures with his canvas wedged against the side of an iceberg, using his hands and oil paints to transfer the colours around him onto the canvas.
A documentary about Philip and his work, ‘A Peace Within’ was released in 2019, following his trip to Mexico to paint the mystical subterranean pools and caves of the ‘cenotes’ and was ultimately selected for the World Ocean Film Festival. The beautiful and atmospheric movie documents his journey to the place that ancient Mayans believed was the gateway to the afterlife and is well worth viewing to understand the dedication and persistence he puts into his work.
Not only is Philip a talented and innovative artist, with stories of blood sucking leeches, freezing limbs and shark infested waters, he would certainly make a fascinating dinner guest. Moreover, Philip cares deeply for his planet; supporting ocean conservation efforts, and more recently, auctioning a collection of his latest paintings with all proceeds going to the COVID-19 relief fund for the NHS and key workers in collaboration with Whitewall Galleries.
To learn more about Philip Gray and to support his work, please follow this link to his official website.
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