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 Liisa Phillips  (20th century)

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Lived/Active: Arizona / Finland      Known for: photo realism

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Biography from Tucson Museum of Art:
Born in Helsinki, Finland, Liisa Phillips studied in the 1970s at the School of Visual Arts in New York and the Art Students League in New York before moving to Arizona. Her early works were painterly and gestural, investigating surrealism and aspects of fantasy. Intrigued by the work of a fellow student while attending The University of Arizona, she began to experiment with Super Realist-styled self portraits in exotic settings, including monkeys, jungle foliage, parrots and bananas—images foreign to her childhood in Finland.

These large-scale paintings were created with regular artists brushes, French curves, and only cadmium red, ultramarine blue, yellow and white. Primarily working with the figure in tropical environments, she turned briefly to the icon of the Western cowgirl, another exotic image for her. She entered this painting in the Tucson Museum of Art’s Arizona Biennial in 1976. The juror, Henry Hopkins, selected it for the Museum’s exhibition award and purchase prize.

During this time she met and worked with noted Photo-Realist John Kacere, who was an artist-in-residence at the University. Interested in French Nouveau Roman literature from the 1950s, which stressed Super Realism in its literary descriptions, Phillips was particularly intrigued by the work of writer Alain Robbe-Grillet. Her aim was to portray a similar sense of realism and sharp sense of descriptive scrutiny. This interest in literary connections to Super Realism echoed Vija Celmins’ investigations, a noted California artist whom Phillips met when she was in Tucson in the late 1970s for an artist’s residency.

In 1979, the year Phillips graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree from The University of Arizona, she had a solo exhibition at the Museum, where her Photo-Realist paintings were shown.

In the winter of 1980, Phillips moved to Bisbee, Arizona, where her work became much brighter and colorful with settings emphasizing deep space. Returning from a trip to the jungles of Mexico, she shifted her attentions away from Super Realism and photo derived work, focusing more on compositions created from her imagination. She currently maintains a studio in Tucson.

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