Artist Joel Phillips

“The only way to truly understand something is to draw it.”
–Jean Le Corbusier

This is the center of my work—an attempt to sincerely grasp what I see around me through the tip of a pencil and a piece of charcoal. At its root, the act of drawing necessitates a concentrated study of not only the physical attributes of the subject, but the emotional as well. Every line and crease in a face tells a story, and rendering these requires the artist to touch and explore each facet of the subject’s existence.

My work focuses primarily on portraiture at a monumental scale. I am fascinated by the intricacies and commonalities that we share as humans, and search for moments when our projected senses of self are transparent, allowing deeper, more truthful emotions to become visible. I pursue ways to peel back the protective veils that we all display to the outside world, striving to capture the unbidden spontaneity of experience.

Central to this search is a focus on the significance of narrative in human existence. Our lives are not linear, with one instant leading solely into the next, but rather circular, with each experience formed and defined by others. A portrait functions in the same manner, teasing out emotions and truths that inform not only the particular instant captured, but more importantly the story leading up to it.

A true portrait is far more than a rendering of physical form—it is the capturing of the vulnerable, un-invented narratives that make us human. Seeing and understanding these is my ultimate goal.


My work is focused on the individuals that I encounters at a unique street corner of San Francisco - 6th and Mission. The ongoing series 'NoRegrets in Life' is an exploration of the particular nuances of the people I meet there who are willing to pose for references.

My process begins with photographs and conversation. In particular he searches for subjects who allow me to peel back the veil of first impressions and glimpse an un-projected, vulnerable sense of who they are. These reference photographs are then brought back to my studio where I spends weeks exploring the individuals at a 1-to-1 scale through the tip of his pencil.

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