Construction sites, broken skateboards, pastel and Prismacolor pencils were integral to designer and artist Thomas Chiu Phillip’s teenage years in Gainesville, Florida. As life took him on a journey across the US to San Francisco and back, it also fed him new skills and ideas for his accessories and home goods made with recycled skateboards, his unique spray paint and stippling art with a universal scope, and also brought him his significant other.
Even though Thomas has been selling art since he was a kid, life’s twist and turns always kept adding new stories to his creations. Hop on board for a ride through the tales of Thomas’ TLukeP Art.
1. How did skateboarders and skateboards become an important part of your work?
The skateboarding community have been a really meaningful and supportive family to me. I’ve been skating since I was 18. We skate for tricks and videos, cruise around the city to shake off bad days, and go to hard-to-reach places to explore things you wouldn’t normally see every day.
Sometimes my friends would buy new boards and break them same day, so I started thinking about how to recycle them, such as making benches and tables out of them.
When I moved to San Francisco, I skated around the city with my friends Ryan Barlow, Mikey Goodwin, and some of the people Ryan films with. We would ride our boards out to a relaxing spot like Land’s End to sit on the cliff and listen to the waves crashing against the rocks, and watch the sun sink into to the ocean. After that, we would ride through the night on the empty dimly lit streets, fueled by the cool night air tingling exerted lungs like tiny needles.
Ryan and I started talking about how to collect all the broken skateboards and what I could do to turn them into what people around us would use. So, I started making trays out of them.
Later, a jewelry artist Yolanda Chiu reached out to me online. She was making ball-joint dolls out of bronze using her jewelry making skills. After getting acquainted to her and her work, I had to meet her in person. Instantly we clicked and started dating. Yolanda taught me wax carving a couple of months after I started making the rolling trays and doing the stipple work. After Yolanda showed me wax carving and jewelry making, it opened up opportunity to a wide variety of new things to create. I used the wax carving technique she taught me to make the rings and jewelry as well.
2. Why are you interested in turning functional construction materials into artistic expressions?
I grew up around construction sites and started helping out when I was eight years old. Later, I started working full time for my parents’ roofing and remodeling business and took over the business when I was eighteen.
Being the foreman for the jobsite, I often needed quick solutions that not only fix problems, but also look good and produce good quality. That’s how I exercised my aesthetics in construction and used carpentry knowledge and construction tools in some of my art.
The functional aspect of construction opened me up to the properties of materials around me. Construction has also taught me logic as well as ways to present it, including mathematics and geometry. We use geometry and repeating patterns to create our world, and construction helped me understand their importance.
3. Why do you often find yourself with “complex thoughts and complex situations”?
I love figuring out how everything in the world works. Everything happens because of something—an action for a reaction. Everything in this world, no matter how simple it is, leads up to a mathematical language. It doesn’t matter how you interpret it or how it represents itself; the universal language of math will always be in the equation.
It doesn’t take one dot for me to draw one picture; It takes thousands of dots, and even if it was only a single dot, you would still see it as one. I use complex thinking especially when I’m working with simple mechanisms like cranks, levers and pulleys. I will end up in a complex project, trying to use those simple mechanisms to represent a certain essence of life.
4. What is your biggest dream?
My biggest dream would be to gain complete understanding of the nature of this physical world we live in, and the world that was created in it. I want to understand our own being, body and mind, and unlock the infinite dimensions of possibilities.
For example, death is when our bodies become disabled in this physical realm, causing the conscious mind to fade. But to slowly age—what is it? Time is a measurement men have created to determine the rotation of our planet in relation to the movement of the universe. What is time really, though? It’s not the concept of time, but the physical nature moving in space, the revolution of matter, that makes up this physical realm cast out in a vast darkness to create energy and life as it dissipates into the darkness of infinite space as a result of the decaying effects of an action and reaction.
5. You’ve been developing your own style in stipple art. What are the inspirations for them?
I started doing stipple art when I lost my memory after a skateboard accident.
My parents got divorced and my relationship with my girlfriend at the time wasn’t going well. As I watched the world crumbling around me, I decided it was time for a change. So I sold the last bit of art I had, took money from my savings, and bought a bus ticket.
That bus ticket was to take me 3000 miles in 3 days across the country from the small city Gainesville, Florida, to San Francisco, where I would join my friends. I packed up my art supplies and the micron pens my girlfriend bought me for Christmas, said goodbye to my girl, my friends and family, and headed west. For the first time in my life, I was finally living in a big city and living for just myself. It was amazing to see so many individuals grouped up as a whole to create a city with such personality, but it was also painful to see the homeless and drug situations and how people treated each other.
Many people kept to themselves, not realizing that they are a dot in a bigger picture. It was painful and difficult to live there at first. With not much money to my name, I lived in a motel on the streets of Polk and Sacramento with two other friends. I had to tie a sheet to a couple of chairs to make a bed to sleep in to escape the bed bugs.
I’ve never seen bed bugs before in my life, so I was freaked out to be living in the middle of an infestation. Every dot at that time, no matter where it was, turned into bed bugs. It was horrible. They seemed to be everywhere. Then finally, my employers at that time helped me get out of the living situation I was in.
In the foregrounds of my stipple art, you’ll see dots representing nature, such as trees on a broken planet, with something human to represent where our bodies come from. The planets are usually broken to represent the things we go through in life, with the heart being exposed, representing our vulnerability. The trees rooting into the veins of the heart represents the life we hold on to and the life we still have.
The background is sort of a free flow, sometimes blended in with the foreground. If one of the dots stepped out of place, it changes the flow and direction that the rest of the dots were going. I’ve displayed my sadness in a way to show the bittersweet beauty in sorrow.
Struggles can separate us, struggles can bring us together; happy memories can’t be replaced, but they can be gathered together to paint a beautiful picture. Every dot has a representation. Every dot has a place. Every dot counts.
6. What did you love the most about living in the Bay Area?
One of the things I liked most about living in the bay Area is the clash of culture with art, food, people and the events that they bring. I would have never met my wife if it wasn’t for that.
7. How did you begin selling your art? How did you decide to sell on Pinkoi?
I’ve been selling my art ever since I was a teenager. Kids at school were paying me to draw cartoon characters and pictures for their projects. As I learned more mediums like charcoal, chalk pastels and Prismacolor colored pencils, I could do portraits of people and their pets in new ways.
My mother owned a hair salon and told her clients about my skills, so people came in and asked me to do portraits of their pets and family members. Eventually, I displayed my artwork at my mom’s salon, using it as a personal gallery while getting contract work from it.
My wife is Taiwanese and uses Pinkoi as her shop to sell her jewelry, and suggested that I use it too because it has always helped her with sales in her jewelry line.
8. What people and places do you hope for your arts to reach?
As an artist, I’ve never really thought about who or what category of people and where I want my art to reach.
I’ve always used my art to take me places and to help me meet new people.
In the moment of creation, I create for my mood or the inspiration that was given to me. But when I’m finished, I would like the whole world to see it. I would love to be known as a great creator.
9. Lastly, please share some words for artists to keep on creating.
The world is how we create it. Create the world you want.
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