Philip came to Brighton College from a childhood spent in Normandy, after attending the Junior School and the College, Philip went on to study at Cambridge before attending art school. Now settled in California, we caught up with Philip to look back on his time at school and highlights since...
- When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you ‘grew-up'?
When I was about 13 years old I wanted to be a missionary, my father had just died and I think that had something to do with it. My home was in France and I felt pretty isolated at school at the time. I was then approached by Gordon Taylor, the art master, who must have sensed something. He took me under his wing and encouraged me to work at my drawing and he taught us about art history and the history of architecture. I then changed my plans and wanted to be naval architect (my father had been a sailor all his life), although at the time Gordon Taylor encouraged me to be a “land” architect.
- What are you now you've grown up?
I applied to Cambridge to read architecture and was accepted at Queens despite the headmaster telling me at the time that I was wasting my time, that I stood no chance of getting in - something I find hard to believe to this day. I am not sure what his motives were but it certainly made me want to prove him wrong! I later went on to art school at Chelsea and have been an artist, museum exhibit designer and theme park and resort master planner ever since. Mine is a sort of hodge podge of a career wearing a lot of hats. Oh and I did eventually build a sailing yacht in my spare time, sailed it across the Atlantic and I am glad to say that its still very much afloat here in California.
- What is your best memory of school?
Actually when I first went to the Junior school I hated it. I had been living all my early years in Normandy, France, which I just loved. To me, England and the school felt harsh, cold and devoid of the rich culture I had grown to love. Two teachers really had a great influence on my school life. Gordon Taylor and “Jock” Henderson. The two of them really saved my life, I think I would have left the school had they not encouraged my various interests. Gordon Taylor was a great mentor, he nurtured the careers of many artists including Peter Blake and my good friend and contemporary David Nash (Br. 1959-63). I think he was an extraordinary teacher. He taught me to love art and architecture, he certainly was an important person in my life. “Jock” Henderson was a brilliant German language teacher, a really good person and he and his family became family friends. I did not realize at the time what an amazing and important wartime career he had had, working with Winston Churchill. People did not talk about those things much in those days.
- What was the best piece of advice you were given
I don’t recall the actual words, but at a certain time in my time at the College Gordon Taylor suggested to me that I did not have to do what others thought I should do. That I had the power to forge my own life and career. That has stuck with me ever since. I only wish that I had stayed closer to him after leaving school. He was an extraordinary teacher and one that the College may not have fully appreciated at the time.
- What do you do /did you do as a career
I am an artist and a designer. Its a great job that you can keep doing right up till the day that they put you in that coffin. I have done a lot of kinetic sculpture involving neon and electronics and I draw and paint here in my studio in Los Angeles. I have also maintained a parallel career as a designer, I sort of fell into that career. When I landed in Florida at Port Canaveral, I had £10 in my pocket and needed a job right away. I got one at Walt Disney World working for Disney’s Imagineering design firm. At the time that was an industry I knew nothing about, but it turned out to be a great education and I later set up my own design firm, designing theme parks and museum exhibits. I still do that with clients mostly in Asia and the Middle East.
- What does your job involve?
Well I have been lucky enough to have two or three jobs really… Being an artist is always a combination of working on your own work, which is a lot of
fun, and then trying to market it. The latter is not my favorite aspect of the job I have to say, but it has to be done. My design work often entails creating a design based on an initial idea that the client brings to the party. Sometimes that concept might be impractical or unrealistic. My job is to find a way to make it work for everyone, a successful commercial venture for the owner, a good design and an interesting experience for the visitor, when we have finished our work.
- What are the most challenging parts of your job?
I think the most challenging and the most interesting are the same. I work a lot with technology, both in my kinetic artwork and also in the more theatrical elements of my design work. Working with technologies like
electronics, that are outside of my own field of expertise and yet making that technology work to create the end result I have in mind is central to this kind of work. I really enjoy the challenge I have to say.
- What have you done that you are most proud of
Well, the most successful projects I have done in the art field are the public art pieces I have done. My earliest example was the 48W tall Neon Tower that
was commissioned by the Arts Council back in 1970, just as I was emerging from art school. That piece stood on the roof of the Hayward Gallery for almost 40 years. Its programming was geared to a number of weather sensors so that the piece would reflect the weather environment around it. At the time, before PC’s existed, the computer and the technologies we used were groundbreaking and I think people could sense that. Ensuring that the current management of the Hayward preserve that work and restore it is my current challenge.
- What is the single thing that would most improve the quality of your life?
This is a tricky question because I don’t see my life as being driven by outside forces so much as by internal ones. Most of what I do depends on how well I am working in my studio and my own quest can be a tough thing to manage. I love what I do and of course what projects I get to work on are in part dependent on finding the right sponsor, or art dealer or client. That is an integral part of this work and for me its been the most difficult aspect to control.
- What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?
I think they would be tools. If I had some steel tools, a knife, a saw and some kind of chisel, I bet I could make a life on that island, maybe even build a boat some day and sail away.
- How would you like to be remembered?
Well I have not thought too much about that as I am not planning to be gone any time soon…. I do like the idea that somehow from all the schooling I have
had, I will have emerged as an inventive thinker, someone who can challenge others to try ambitious and unconventional things themselves.