Classical Meets the Mysterious in the Art of Philip Ross Munro
Women in ruffled white dresses float in a cosmic watery world. A well-dressed man and an underdressed woman smoking a cigar appear like apparitions by a pool. Continuous line drawings evoke Greco-Roman friezes.
All these disparate works hang easily together in a new exhibit by Philip Ross Munro at the Cultural Council for Palm Beach Counties gallery in Lake Worth. As an artist who works in series, the ideas and images flow from one set to the next as themes and references from art history chime in.
“All these are interrelated,” Munro says during a show walk through. “There is a fluidity and a conversation going on here.”
When people ask him though what does it all mean he responds “Well what does it mean to you? It’s not the artists job to tell them, the narrative can be many things.”
In one large work a woman plunges backwards and downward into a pool, her pale legs splayed up above her. In another underwater work a couple dive in, trailing white scarves as poetic words wave across the surface.
“These began as photographs in a time when photos were not so popular for exhibits,” he explains. “So I added streaks of paint to give them another quality.” The underwater photographs have been shot on location over the last 28 years.
In another series of three large photos, a man sits in a suit and hat by a pool while a woman in a sheer gown sits smoking and lurking by a tree specter like. Is she really there or is the man imagining her? Then in an adjoining large scale photo the full length of a home’s brightly lit lower floor is viewed from outside the leaf strewn porch. A handsome bearded man faces the viewer wearing the same sheer white gown the woman in the other photos had on. What’s going on here? Is it all a shifting dream?
A stunning section lies beyond the photo story series of single continuous line drawing made with black sharpie. In perfect small rectangles he creates dozens of figurative and abstract scenes, some which become risqué nudes upon closer inspection. The lines and poses resemble the friezes that were placed across the borders of classical buildings, both Art Deco and Greco-Roman. All done in freehand with no prior planning, the series of so many drawings evolved into creating them as wallpaper.
“I offer them as individual original images,” he says “But felt they would work great as wallpaper, so in here I created a rectangular room for these rectangular drawings to become wallpaper that has other art hung on top of it. It’s design that is all of a piece. I do them all freehand and you can even turn them around different ways and they still make sense.”
Munro’s images constantly ask that viewers look again and again to question what lies before them. Within the parameters of his work you are never alone.
“I work in series,” he says in his artist statement. “Each is an exploration to share. I look at, into and through situations. There is a slightly voyeuristic element in the finished presentation that is not limited to the captured image. The outcome is similar to that of a ‘metaphrast’, someone who changes prose to verse. In this case recasting real life into changed perceptions of human form and emotional balance. The goal is to inspire and raise the Qi, or energy, of awareness.”
As a well-traveled, well-lived artist-designer, Munro graduated from École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris and has a background in engineering from McGill University in Montreal, Canada and digital media from City College in San Francisco, California. He has lived in Europe, Canada, San Francisco, California and the Design District of Miami, Florida, home is currently West Palm Beach. His studies in engineering, mathematics, design, architecture, psychology, literature and in particular, complex color systems form the basis for his work that invokes the formal undercurrent of a contemporary Classicist.
As with all classicists, the human form figures prominently in his work.
“It amazes and astounds me that in our enlightened era that nudity continues to be frequently ostracized,” he continues. “It is the nakedness of our existence that dictates the planet’s course. Raw, intuitive energy resonates at the molecular level and perception inspires reflection of the individual and collective situation. In the current political arena of dichotomies the need for this could not be clearer. And yet my work leans away from ‘shock value’ images in a substantive quest for harmonious meditative, emotional flow and awareness.”
Indeed his nudes are lyrical and not leering. They are interconnected with form and design and format, as all great art must be. It’s a dreamy, drenched world he creates, while “diving into fluid mediums, be they physical or metaphysical.”
Bouncing from life as a Skinner Baby (kids were placed in an incubator like glass-walled box instead of a crib) then later a Military Cadet and then a life in Paris, Munro feels he has “ridden through the world of separation from the herd. It is possibly that which brings me to take a closer look at the perceptions of the psyche and emotional balance.”