To Shiri Phillips, inspiration resides wherever light extends its reach.
Looking outside, she notices the myriad of shades and shadows decorating blades of grass, the whimsical palette of wildflowers blooming in her backyard garden, and the gentle dance of sunlight shaping the colors of the world around us. For Phillips, life’s greatest joys are found in color.
In the world of abstract contemporary art, Phillips has emerged as a vibrant and dynamic force. Her work is turning heads and lighting up galleries across the country thanks to her deep connection to color and the emotions in which it can evoke.
Phillips’ love affair with art began in her early years, shaped by her grandparents’ influence. They introduced her to the world of art and museums, nurturing her fascination with the stories behind each masterpiece.
“They were the ones who exposed me to the historical aspect of art and really diving in and learning about the artists,” Phillips recalls.
Though her love for art was evident from a young age, it wasn’t until she started taking art classes in elementary school that she realized her true passion. But even then, she couldn’t imagine painting as a full-time career.
Artistry often goes unappreciated or misconstrued as a mere hobby, and those who dare to weave creativity into their careers—such as Phillips—frequently find themselves navigating a sea of skepticism and criticism.
As the time neared to pick a major and choose a career path, Phillips succumbed to the voices of doubt that surrounded her. Societal pressures bombarded her with comments and stigmas suggesting that painting couldn’t be a real job, insisting that she’d never make a career out of her creative passions.
“I went to my adult life thinking I would never make money off of selling my art, so I didn’t major in studio art, I majored in art history,” Phillips explains. “I thought to myself, I can’t earn a living being a full-time artist.” Now, she finds those perceptions comical.
Upon college graduation, Phillips embarked on a career in the non-profit sector before making a gradual shift to graphic design, later freelancing part-time while raising her children. However, the challenges posed by prevailing global events, along with the arrival of her second child, ignited a creative spark that she couldn’t ignore.
Nearly a decade had gone by since she had last given herself fully to her passion for painting, and who can blame her? She was postpartum, had a newborn, and had a kindergartener who was about to start school on Zoom. Figuratively and literally, she simply didn’t have the space before then to paint. After 2020, everything changed.
“I used painting as a therapeutic outlet for all the frustration and pent-up angst that the whole world felt at the time,” she says. “I picked up a paintbrush, and I couldn’t put the paint back down.”
Her work quickly evolved into a cathartic release, creating a separation from all the preconceived notions she harbored around herself as an artist. The world at large was experiencing uncertainty in every waking moment, and Phillips made the decision to embrace it, challenge herself, and find ways to grow.
Phillips has always been a perfectionist by nature. Before her return to painting, she remembers meticulously planning her work before her fingertips even came near a canvas. She recalls carefully cutting strips of paper and measuring every single line before dipping her brush in paint. Even in her personal life, she had the tendency to overthink before putting anything into motion, and she was finally ready to let go of these expectations and standards she clung to so dearly.
This transformation led her to explore abstract art, a departure from her previous inclination towards precision and hyper-realism, representing her personal journey to break free from perfectionism and embrace the freedom of abstract expression.
“It’s funny, I was never drawn to abstract art as a kid, I would gravitate towards impressionism,” Phillips explains. “Abstraction was something I was very uncomfortable with.”
Impressionism played a fundamental role in developing Phillips’ love for the study of color and light. Color was always something that she loved, but before she would paint what she saw, not what she felt.
“In school, you don’t learn that way,” Phillips explains. “You learn to paint what you see.”
Now, Phillips’ creative process is fluid and instinctual, much like her approach to color. She no longer meticulously plans each piece, but instead allows herself to respond to the moment and the emotions it evokes. Her process often involves working on multiple pieces simultaneously, exploring different series, and reacting to the colors and materials at hand.
“I stopped worrying about the color wheel and began painting instinctually,” Phillips says. “I don’t plan my colors; I just go.”
Her ability to harness color theory while staying true to her instincts results in visually striking and emotionally resonant works of art.
While Phillips draws inspiration from various sources, her connection to Omaha plays a significant role in her artistic journey. Omaha’s vibrant art community and the support she receives from local institutions like the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts have been instrumental in her growth as an artist. She also curates shows and participates in local art initiatives, strengthening her ties to the creative community.
When asked about her advice for aspiring artists, Phillips emphasizes the importance of not letting fear paralyze their creativity. She acknowledges the challenges that come with pursuing art as a career but encourages artists to take calculated risks and embrace the journey.
“It’s better to take a risk sometimes than to have the regret,” Phillips advises.
From art history major to mother to full-time painter, Phillips’ story offers a compelling testimony to the notion that sometimes, good things just take time.
“It’s as if, during the earlier stages of my life, my art career had been on hold, waiting for the right moment to resume.”
Shiri Phillips continues to paint her world in vibrant colors, inviting others to share in the boundless energy and emotions that flow from her canvas.