Tattooing and art, though distinct, are intricately intertwined forms of expression that both demand an artist’s imaginative vision and skilful handiwork to create stunning and meaningful pieces. Mike Philp, an emerging artist from Birmingham who transitioned from being a tattoo artist to a contemporary artist, is known for transforming his clients’ bodies into symbolic vessels of meaning.
Sculpture is important within my work as my canvases are not flat but sculptured in geometry, giving the viewer a different perspective from different angles, just like the organic forms of the human body that I’ve been tattooing
After years of refining his craft and deeply engrossing himself in various art styles, Philp is now venturing into contemporary art. Along this journey, he conceived an aesthetic he coined as ‘GeoRealism.’ This style emerged from his experience inking geometric patterns onto the supple canvas of the human body. Philp believes sculptures are not just moments captured in time but timeless art. He emphasizes the value of sculptural elements in his work, as his canvases are not flat but sculpted in geometry, mirroring the forms of the human bodies he has been tattooing for over 14 years.
He ‘GeoRealism’ as an exploration of geometry and lines combined with Renaissance sculpture’s antiquity, mythology, and realism. Through this aesthetic, he seeks to delve into themes of emotion, mind, and nature. The influence of these elements is evident in Philp’s new body of work, which includes achromatic mixed media works embossed with a geometric tactile quality carved from wood, exuding a cold, industrial feel.
The focal point of his works presents an abstract framing of his sculptures, revealing a dramatic countenance captured in the realistic effect of marble. Darkness lurks in the recesses of geometric patterns, adding a sense of mystery and prompting contemplation. Ahead of his debut exhibition at London’s Grove Gallery, titled ‘Introspective,’ we had the opportunity to learn more about Philp’s journey into the arts, his creative process, and more.
Hi Mike, please introduce yourself to those who may need to become more familiar with your work. Could you share your journey from growing up in Birmingham to becoming an award-winning tattoo artist and now a painter? How have these varied experiences influenced your artistic vision?
Mike Philp: Growing up in Birmingham will give you a lot of life lessons; I can say I’m lucky enough to start at the bottom, as life for me now feels consistently filled with gratitude. Skateboarding is an expression of creativity and discipline; it is so hard on the body, your mindset has to be in the notion of not giving up and keep pushing; and this has taught me such a great lesson in life growing up, and without it, I don’t think I would have met the people I have.
I was into tattooing from an early age; at 19, I became a tattoo apprentice, and I’ve never looked back. Through tattooing, I discovered many styles of art and explored all styles to give more of myself, give who I am and what I love into my art, and that’s how the Georealism form became a style for which I’m known. Understanding how the ink sits in the skin and how the layers can affect each layer of the tattoo has helped me understand art as if it is built on dimensional layers and how each layer can affect another depending on the viewers point of visual. I want nothing more than the viewer to smile and feel within the art that I create.
Your work is said to be conceived from the timeless work of Michelangelo and Bernini. In what ways do you believe your work aligns with or diverges from their artistic philosophies and techniques?
Mike Philp: For years, I’ve been working on my clients by creating art for their bodies, treating the body as a sculpture for which I create art. I’ve used many of Michelangelo’s and Bernini’s references with my tattoos to express power and beauty. I believe sculptures are not only a moment captured in time but timeless art; the value of sculpture is important within my work as my canvases are not flat but sculptured in geometry, giving the viewer a different perspective from different angles, just like the organic forms of the human body that I’ve been tattooing for over 14 years.
In your personal life, you are known as ‘Silent Mike’ in your youth; you observed natural patterns in people’s personalities. How do these observations influence the geometric patterns in your artwork?
Mike Philp: Looking back, I can see how being silent was an advantage in life; you don’t need to fill the room with noise, but observing the world will tell you more and help you grow and listen more. In my life now, I get the opportunity to spend hours with clients, understanding what they truly want through their personality and taking that personality and turn it into art form on their bodies and I truly believe my understand of life and personality comes from the years of listening and watching. Geometry, I believe, is a second language for humans; we admire it, and it feels good to see such amazing visuals, so I love to connect this language in art for my clients and viewers.
You use a unique blend of achromatic spray paint, acrylics, and tattoo ink on natural wood canvases. How do these materials complement your exploration of emotion, mind, and nature?
Mike Philp: My canvas is often made of wood, bringing nature into your home and imagery of life to give the viewer a sense of openness and space. A collection of paintings has a certain type of gold paint that reflects the light, and as the sun casts over the painting, it creates either a new light source of gold or a shadow of additional geometric patterns to give new life and experience to the pieces. My mind is always thinking of new ways to explore the world we live in and re-create this in the form of Georealism.
Your preference for black, white, and natural colours is a significant aspect of your work. What is the symbolic significance of this colour palette in relation to the themes you explore?
Mike Philp: Black and white has always been my choice of palette. From a young age, I worked a lot in pencil and charcoal; how I work in tattooing, I would layer up my tattoo art and use the skin as a form of colour/geometry. I can see the art in several layers, knowing exactly how each dimension would interact with each other, which would create the effect that tends to shock most clients when the skin tone runs through the tattoo itself, creating another piece of art within it.
In this new body of work, you’ve coined the term ‘GeoRealism’ to describe your aesthetic. Can you delve deeper into what this term means and how it guides your artistic process?
Mike Philp: Years into my career as a tattoo artist, I started to develop a style which I call “Georealism.” This explores the idea of perfect geometry and lines on the organic form of the body whilst using realism to help connect a relationship to the viewer, and clients after realising it looked and felt amazing to create perfect geometry on an organic body.
I realised my love for this style pushed the passion within me to re-create this within canvas so more of the world could enjoy and love it. It took a long time to realise how I would recreate this. Still, as I realised the textures and tones of the human body were similar to the wood grains and tones, I could re-create my art in canvas form with the addition of layers that transform the way you view the piece at different angles, just like my art that would be seen around the body.
In your debut exhibition at London’s Quantus Gallery, Introspective is a series of achromatic and geometric multi-media compositions that explore the depths of emotion, mind, and nature. Can you tell us more about the exhibition and the bodywork and how the exhibition came about?
Mike Philp: This Exhibition will be an introduction to my art and mind, most of all the beginning of a huge year to come in 2024, elements of my past and present as a skateboarder and an artist. You’ll become part of the art, and the art will have a few surprises within itself; light will extend the art depending on the source and direction. I’ve been wanting to recreate my art on canvas for years, but it wasn’t until now I found the exact way that is true to myself and my art; I met James, the owner of Quantus, and the rest is history!
What do you hope viewers take away from your exhibition, particularly in understanding the relationship between geometry, emotion, mind, and nature?
Mike Philp: For me, the most important thing would be for the viewer to have a new experience in viewing art through my style, Georealism, to view art from several angles and to take a step into my world using nature as the canvas.
How does the ‘Introspective’ collection reflect your personal growth and evolution as an artist?
Mike Philp: Introspective is an introduction to my work and the way that I think and construct my art.
Considering your work’s thematic and stylistic evolution, where do you see your artistic journey heading in the future?
Mike Philp: I have lots of ideas, something I never fail with, but most of my challenges are my ideas are ahead of time and technology, but focusing on the experience of the viewer, I’m keen to keep creating art that will last forever.
Lastly, what does art mean to you?
Mike Philp: Art means “experience of one.” We all live within our own minds, so each of us experiences art in our own way; I believe art should always be an experience.