What we feel we should be doing with our lives is in some cases very different to what we actually need to be doing.Creative philosopher of contemporary culture, Philipp Humm faced choosing between a successful career within advertising and his true passion of painting and sculpture. Despite this, Humm’s creativity has always lingered until recently when he became a full-time artist which has enabled new opportunities to challenge theory’s of expressionism.
Sami Armstrong takes this exclusive opportunity to chat with Philipp Humm, focusing on his artistic direction and his journey from corporate life to full-time artist.
Your work is classified as Pop Expressionism. Has your work always been placed within this genre or have you experienced change and evolution within your practice over time?
My style has evolved quite naturally over time, but without any radical changes. As I progress as an artist, the changing techniques and materials I use, from watercolour to oil to bronze, reflect a sense of development. I believe my work has been described as Pop Expressionism, a term coined by art critic Edward Lucie-Smith, because of my fusion of different forms and practices. In particular, I combine elements of US Pop Art with certain characteristics of German Expressionism, creating an entirely new kind of contemporary style.
Breaking the cycle and security of a successful corporate life to invest in creativity through painting and sculpture must have been a pretty frightening yet euphoric experience. When did you realise this was a new path you needed to take? What advice would you give to others in light of this life change and the experiences that have followed?
We only have one life and material wealth is not always a fulfilling aspiration to pursue. We have a saying in German that goes: “your last shirt will be pocket-less”. It is therefore crucial to live an authentic life by doing what is valuable to oneself and not to others. Art was always a dormant passion that I practiced on the side in order to help me focus on my corporate job. At the time, I was working 60 hours a week in my corporate role and 30-40 hours per week as an artist. In 2014, though, I decided to commit to becoming an artist full-time. I will never regret my decision to quit my job. I know now, as I did then, that establishing oneself in the art market is a difficult feat. However, I am confident in my skills, as well in my ideas, passion and strong will. I am optimistic that the attributes I developed during my time in the corporate world will help me succeed in the art world, too.
Making time to paint amongst your busy career within the world of advertising and business must have been difficult. Investing in this passion through classes at prestigious studios in both Florence and London is admirable and inspiring. Did you find maintaining a strong commitment to your creative interests alongside work challenging, or a natural response to life balance?
Management jobs are demanding. Although it was difficult for me to find time for art, especially when my children were young, I always found time for creativity. What I realised overtime is that creativity is not exclusively in the hands of artists and creatives. Successful businesses also require a creative mindset, they need managers who think outside box and disrupt industries, which as a CEO was something that I become rather good at.
For many creatives, making a living from their true passion is the most challenging element. Contacts from your career have supported you and enabled you to apply your past experiences to your future goals. Did you receive any support during your decision to move towards life as a full-time artist?
I am in the fortunate position that I don’t have to sell art to financially sustain myself. This also means that I do not need to work on commission, which is handy as I am a rather independent artist. That being said, in the contemporary art scene, commercial and artistic success is deeply connected. Although I still see myself as a start-up, I am working towards a good path to success.
Your interests stem from topics including materiality, society’s expectations and cultural standards. Philosophical and historical influences are also evident in your work. Has inspiration always come from these subjects? When did you realise that your work was responding to these interests?
I did a BA in Philosophy, specialising in Existentialists and Plato. The concept of ‘authenticity’ has always interested me. I like to reflect on materiality, history and technology. I hope my work allows others to reflect on these issues as well. I also hope that in doing so it resonates as an ironic chronicle of contemporary society.
Blurring the line between our imagination and reality is an exciting concept and an obvious, playful element in the storytelling power of your work. How much preparation and planning goes into the painting and sculpture? You speak of your creative process as very much methodological.
I do adopt a methodical approach when it comes to my creative process. I start each work with a concept I want to portray. That being said the process is never linear, for with every new sketch, drawing or choice of colour a painting evolves in new ways and directions. Aside from producing paintings, I also create bronze sculptures. My sculptures are more organic and less structured than my painting. I find that working with clay adds certain fluidity to the process.
Talk to us about your current work. What can we look forward to seeing from you?
You will see two sculptures made out of silicon and with real hair, one with glass eyes. They look strikingly real and are copies of myself. The first is based on a marionette body, a metaphor about how we are guided or even controlled by others, and the other is a life mask. They attract a lot of attention and evoke strong reactions from viewers.
I have also produced two oil paintings, one of which portrays a woman who takes selfies so incessantly that she turns into stone. Even as she crumbles to pieces, she relentlessly continues to document her breakdown with selfies.
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