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To the letter

Words by Hannah Tapping | Images by Adj Brown.

A lifelong love of music, combined with colour, shape and pattern creates artwork which communicates feeling, sensation and personality.

Phil Strugnell is an art teacher; that’s his day job, inspiring the next generation of creatives in north Cornwall. However, one day a fortnight is given over to his own practice where he creates lyrical collages of material, colour and letter forms. His early inspiration came from photography and the moving image which saw Phil combine his love of art and music, lighting nightclubs with analogue installations. The notion of layering had already influenced Phil’s work at this point, with up to 20 projectors at any one time, looping and overlaying images.

Although he studied fine art and printmaking, Phil’s early artistic practice took him in the direction of photography and film. Always a record collector and DJ, his first solo exhibition in Cornwall, The Shape of Music, celebrated an interconnection between the space, artwork and music. His most recent body of work combines collage, sculptural elements, block printing and gestural mark making that nods to graffiti. In his paintings, layers are formed from collage, printmaking, gestural mark making and abstract typography, while the 3D wall sculptures/reliefs are built up with layers of painted plywood using abstract shapes derived from hand-cut, typographic block prints. Taking inspiration from jazz musician Sun Ra’s piece Interplanetary Music, a series of four large works on ply boards start with the layering of large letter forms using old photographic studio backdrop paper. “From there I paint abstract expressionist-inspired layering, using calligraphy and post-graffiti gestural marks. On top of that, I build a vocabulary of shapes from my typographic block prints, creating a series of motifs,” explains Phil. “I draw on influences of geometric minimalism from the likes of Ben Nicholson, but I also incorporate elements of typography, graphic design and ‘graffuturism’ into my work, as well as Russian constructivism and 20th century modernism. My intention is to create mood, atmosphere, feeling and sensation through colour and shape.

Reflecting the idea of versions within reggae music, Phil’s new collection, for which he is seeking gallery representation, will take a set of shapes and develop a series of different variations and versions in repeat.

Phil was photographed in his workshop as part of photographer Adj Brown’s latest project, ‘Makers and Doers’, a series of images capturing Cornish artists, craft makers and creators with a sense of curiosity.


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