I was lucky enough to interview the artist, Claire Phillips, recently. Claire's huge, touching oil portraits of inmates on Death Row which were sponsored by The Arts Council have led to critical acclaim in the USA and further afield, and her work is now held in public collections. Her current exhibition in Sussex focuses on child labour in India.
Morag: Claire, how did you become interested in this important subject?
Claire: I so enjoyed working with Reprieve, which is a British charity providing representation for people on Death Row, that I wanted another meaningful project to work on. I happened to see an article in the Sunday Times about BBA (Bachpan Bachao Andolan= Save Childhood). I contacted the journalist who put me in touch with them and I was invited to stay in their homes in India. Money from commissions following the Death Row exhibition coupled with sales of my prints meant I was able to work on the project. It was a wonderful experience and I was privileged to be invited on a rescue mission. Some little boys were making cheap beaded bracelets for UK high street stores. Those boys are now safely housed in the rehabilitation centre.
Morag: That's wonderful on so many counts, and your paintings really bring the children to life. How do you begin working such a massive scale?
Claire: I make informal sketches and take photos, and I might plan the final composition using Photoshop. I always make at least one huge tonal drawing in charcoal, as I've learned from experience that what might work well as a small drawing won't neccessarily translate well to a huge canvas! Once I've checked out the composition on paper, I draw straight onto the canvas in paint.
Morag: How do you manage to reconcile the diverse roles of artist, businesswoman, mother, engineer, wife, and so on?
Claire: Mike and I met when we were both engineering students at Brunel, and we started a management consultancy business 25 years ago, (phillipsconsulting.co.uk) which meant I had an extra income stream. I completed my Fine Art Painting degree part time over five years, and that was definitely the hardest time: there was so much juggling, switching in and out of roles. The youngest of our three daughters was 10 when I graduated in 2004. These days, I find that if I say I'm working from home, people don't take it seriously, so now I say, "I work Mondays to Thursdays."
Morag: Any plans for a new painting series?
Claire: Not at the moment. I'm on the lookout for commissions and sponsorship! I've agreed to decorate a papier Mache elephant for Horsham Museum though! It's very colourful and based on the BBA philosophy that all childhoods should include happiness, freedom and education. It's for the Horsham Trail on July 25th until the end of August.
Morag: Well, best of luck with the sponsorship and project hunt, and thanks so much for talking today.
Claire: My pleasure.
Reclaiming Childhood: Face to Face with Child Labour in India is at Roffey Park Institute in Horsham until the end of 2015.