Sea Change

Philip DeAngelo may be our first surfer/artist.

Philip DeAngelo may be our first surfer/artist.

Singer/songwriters and designer/builders: the mountains are full of multi-talented creative types who fell in love with the region and now call it home. But River Arts District painter Philip DeAngelo may be our first surfer/artist.

Growing up in Ocean City, New Jersey, DeAngelo was equally compelled by two passions: the canvas and the waves. He started painting when he was in fourth grade, but that didn’t stop him from competing on his high school surf team. As an adult he was able to forge both interests into a career: with a friend, he started Surfing Artists International, an art publishing company that produces and distributes prints and posters from original art by surfers. The business thrived and even spawned an annual festival (the Art of Surfing Festival) on the pier in Ocean City, featuring music, surfing competitions, and of course, art. DeAngelo also owned a gallery in Ocean City, selling his work along with that of local artists. He and his wife Tina owned a sheep farm not far from the coast (talk about multitalented: DeAngelo also knows how to shear sheep).

With all that synergy between life, art and location, DeAngelo wasn’t looking to uproot. But after he and Tina visited Asheville, they couldn’t quite shake it when they went home. “We never dreamed we would be so affected by the mountains,” he says. The combination of a thriving arts community, good food and way of life was enough to compensate for the distance to the shore, and when the couple was able to make the move, everything fell into place.

Since moving here, DeAngelo has gotten to use his gallery and art promotion experience as a marketing manager and gallery director at BlackBird Frame and Art (where his work can also be seen). “I love helping other artists,” he says. But he’s also been able to focus more time on his own painting at his studio in the Wedge building in the River Arts District, and the change of scenery here has altered both the content and process of his work.

DeAngelo still works in chalk pastels and oils, but he’s added a new layer to his work with encaustic. This new process is a collaboration with his friend, renowned encaustic painter, Constance Williams. Together they combine archival giclee and encaustic to create a distinctly unique work of art. The process starts with a combination of beeswax and damar tree resin heated to a molten state and applying the wax to the surface of a painting or print. Each layer of wax is then fused with a blow torch, giving the work a reflective quality which DeAngelo enhances by buffing it by hand over the course of several weeks. Using a tinted oil stain along with the encaustic allows DeAngelo to transform a limited edition print into a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork: each encaustic treatment results in a unique surface, and the stain application can achieve different effects. While the proximity of a blowtorch to a paper print might make some nervous, DeAngelo explains that he first mounts the prints to durable Gatorboard (a compressed foam backing), giving the piece as much strength as a painting on wooden board.

A new medium is one thing, but DeAngelo has also shifted the focus of his work since he arrived in the mountains. His trademark serene water scenes have been replaced with dreamy tree-lined landscapes.

“The subject matter has never been super important to me,” says DeAngelo. “It’s about the process.” He’s driven artistically to explore color and texture, and “with encaustic, you can do both.” While his paintings and prints feature “simple, clearly defined spaces, not too much detail,” the layer of encaustic (enhanced by oil stain) adds rich texture and a hint of mystery, although, DeAngelo says, he’s not trying to do anything “too heavy.”

“At the gallery, people are attracted to Philip’s work on a gut level because of the positive feelings they convey,” says BlackBird Frame and Art co-owner John Horrocks. Horrocks says that impression is even stronger when gallery clients meet DeAngelo. “His work reflects who he is. He’s a positive person.”

Perfectly content with his new hometown, DeAngelo says he’s inspired by the views of the mountains he sees every day on his way too and from his home in Leicester. While he still returns to Ocean City for the annual surf and art festival, he’s happy to get back to Asheville when it’s over. Being landlocked doesn’t mean he’s left surfing behind for good: he still gets down to the North Carolina shore, which offers, if not the great waves they have up North, a nice sense of community. And he still paints the occasional surfboard or pop-art, surf-inspired piece, such as the paintings he donated to a local charity show last year. Although DeAngelo spends more time hiking than surfing these days, surfer/artist is not really about what you do: it’s more of a state of mind.

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