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Philip Delisle

The RBC Canadian Painting Competition interview series

Painting by Philip Delisle
Painting and photograph courtesy of Philip Delisle NSCAD MFA Studio, acrylic on canvas (164 x 183 centimetres).

Philip Delisle received an MFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design University, and a BFA from the University of Waterloo, Ontario.

Why did you choose painting as your medium?

I like the flexibility of painting, and the speed with which I can make changes. I work towards a plan, but I like to follow tangents. With painting, I can change direction and transform a canvas in a matter of hours.

What’s your creative process?

I work from photo collages that I make myself. They are a starting point for painting. I build upon the images as things occur, so the final piece doesn’t look much like the photographic source.

Do any themes come through in your work?

The idea of self-reference keeps coming up in my work. Whether it’s painting myself painting, or painting my own paintings, or writing, it’s always there. It’s my way to investigate what I do and why I make things.

Tell us about the painting you submitted for the RBC Canadian Painting Competition.

At art school, I was always thinking, “How am I going to do my final thesis show?” I was constantly thinking about dealing with that exhibition. I had an experimental phase where I was painting images of myself in the studio. I was also making abstract art, experimenting with colour swatches, and writing. I didn’t want to curate those things out. I wanted to do a show that demonstrated everything. I decided that I could wrap it all together in an epic piece, a painting.

Photograph courtesy of Philip Delisle
The artist in his studio.

How does this painting compare with your other work?

One of the main differences between this piece and other work I’ve done is that I don’t directly appear in this one. I like the thought that it points to my hand, rather than a painting of me painting a painting. It’s a little subtler without me needing to pose for the action.

Does theory influence your work?

Definitely. I’ve been engaged with Jean Baudrillard and his writings on Simulacra and Simulation. He tells us that a simulation cannot be distinguished from reality. I manipulate and re-present reality in my own practice; for example: when I insert my own work into a painting of a famous art gallery. In terms of painting as fiction, it’s like saying, “I’m making things up, but they’re real,” and it’s a powerful idea.

Which artists challenge you?

I have been looking at German painters, Matthias Weischer and Neo Rauch. In Canadian painting, I’ve been influenced by John Kissick, David Urban and Harold Klunder. Historically, I owe a lot to M.C. Escher, René Magritte, Marcel Duchamp, Gustave Courbet, Philip Guston, and Gerhard Richter. With Richter, specifically, I relate to his switching between abstract work and representation.

Outside visual art, what works have influenced you?

I’m really inspired by literature. I was initially drawn to Kurt Vonnegut. He doesn’t care to maintain the illusion that other writers do. He was one of the first writers I read where it was clear he was writing the book, and I was reading the book. I drew some definite parallels as a young painter. What would it look like to make a Kurt Vonnegut painting, a painting that talks about the act of painting? That was a huge inspiration towards what I’m doing now.

Have you noticed any trends in contemporary Canadian painting?

I have noticed a lot of singular ideas that are well presented. That’s a recurring theme for stuff that gets publicized in Canada. Things you can wrap your head around. If it’s abstract art, it’s a clean, crisp thing, a logical abstraction.

What’s distinctive about Canadian art?

We have this government funding system in place, and I think that makes a big difference for taking risks that would be more challenging in a purely commercial environment.

This interview has been condensed and edited for publication. See all fifteen finalists at TheWalrus.ca/cpc.


Chris Berube is the host of The Walrus Podcast.