“The Journey” – New Paintings
Spiral Cafe – March 2013
Review by Debora Alanna
As Berkeley  said, if I attempt to imagine some place in the world which has never been seen, the very fact that I imagine it makes me present at that time. I thus cannot conceive a perceptible place in which I am not myself present.
– ‘The Primacy of Perception and Its Philosophical Consequences’ (1964) by Maurice Merleau-Ponty. 
The days aren't discarded or collected, they are bees
that burned with sweetness or maddened
the sting: the struggle continues,
the journeys go and come between honey and pain.
No, the net of years doesn't unweave: there is no net.
They don't fall drop by drop from a river: there is no river.
Sleep doesn't divide life into halves,
or action, or silence, or honor:
life is like a stone, a single motion,
a lonesome bonfire reflected on the leaves,
an arrow, only one, slow or swift, a metal
that climbs or descends burning in your bones.
― Pablo Neruda, Aun (Still Another Day)
Philip Willey: They are all small on paper.....8 x 10 inches....watercolour, ink....mixed media. Except the one big one (Journey to the East) which is acrylic on board 24 x 30.
I've been wondering how I would describe my work if I was reviewing it. It's definitely not abstract. But not illustrational either. Time and space are important. I guess I'm just dealing with a headful of memories and ideas......maybe some philosophical quandaries. I get the ideas and I try to realize them as nearly as I can.....approximations.
Which philosophical quandaries?
The bridge between art and reality. Reconciling the physical with the material. I guess that guru in MacDonald’s sums it up.....in an obvious kind of way.
I have more pictures like that but I didn't put them in the show.
McGuru by Philip Willey
In the unassuming Spiral Cafe on sunrise or sunset walls, you will find Philip Willey’s latest work installed on one long continuum this month, March 2013. Willey populates paintings with memories within memories of worlds where he lived, with worlds he creates and shares. A traveller, not a tourist, his observations and practice are analysis within veneration of places and people that colourised his voyaging.
A discriminating, inexplicable sapphire aura soaks Angkor4, saturating this Cambodian trek dialogue with silky blue as a dream fulfilled, intuitive understanding that we all long for, ultimately. Layering subdued jade shrubbery, the temple triangulated pinnacles contrasts the round vegetation, a halo behind the pondering, demure monk. What he thinks of us, looking at his shrine, at him, the agent, evocation, the division of here and there seems to sharpen our appreciation of his world, but Willey leaves the monk’s thoughts for our deliberation.
Angkor4 by Philip Willey
Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) by Philip Willey
Willey brings us a snapshot of Istanbul, Turkey with Sultanahmet. A facile fluency, Willey sketched the neighbourhood with deft strokes, highlighting trees and roofs. The houses huddle, looking like vacant faces, a remark about the inhabitants or how one’s house takes on the characteristics of those living inside. The Blue Mosque too looks animated. Stretching like an arm, the single minaret points upward to the skyless expanse calling no one to prayer. The other minarets are running amok in the landscape, recalcitrant. Willey superimposes isolation within this community, and confusion about the centrality of worship where architecture for the call to devotion is incomplete.
Poonaexpress by Philip Willey
ChungKing by Philip Willey
A skilled draughtsman, Philip can render an Indian train station in Poona (Poonaexpress) with people pouring out of, climbing onto train compartments and multiple balconies of activity as effortlessly as he can capture the brash Hong Kong multitudes’ commerce or an Afghan dessert bus (Khyber) full of passengers with desert holding the vehicle and travellers captive. Willey captivates. His colours are sincere, his amalgamated scenes convince us there is fantastic mystery everywhere.
Khyber by Philip Willey
Willey fearlessly pays homage to people he reveres. Gurus, Paul Gaugin, John Lennon. Overlapping one lush memory of Rajasthan (Ranthambore) with another memory of a Guru in a different time and place, Willey superimposes reminiscence with the consequence of experience, marking influence with lines of intention filling landscape and form with colours imbuing the traces of past that retain an enlivening presence. Drawing is coloured stains, allowing the articulation of architecture and flora to trace humanity’s tone.
Ranthambore by Philip Willey
While Willey absorbs Paul Gauguin, he also redefines him with his own individuality. Producing many works, one shown in this exhibition spirited with Gauguin, he evokes (Tahiti) abandon, subjecting himself to study and emulates the presiding master with his own blue interlude. A prone reclining woman is the shape of furniture, the place where Willey can repose with a central path leading to a standing nude wistful in the threshold, not quite in, not in the world. The figures could easily be the past and present of the same woman. Feminine gestural portrayals all over the thatched interior frame the contemplative longing of the distant view. Past presentiment, past relations. Recollection or reflection, Willey’s Tahiti is beholden and a suffusion of washed indigo memory of sensuality.
Tahiti by Philip Willey
In Woodcut , Willey anchors a different perspective of the same Polynesian local, the palms distant and framed in the background. A gradated attentiveness to locals peer into a studio, emerging from whitewash of an exterior wall to a mother and child in tentative full colour in the outdoor light.
A shadowed printmaker in a shadowy studio, the portrait is the darkness of concentration but also the segregation from the scene, people. The woodcutting (printmaker’s) workspace is pallid and dominant. The others are outside the artist’s realm. What appears as an enlarged love letter is a wall mural to the artist’s left, our right enlarging the importance of what was written, and connects with the deep shadows of the woodcutting pursuit with its greying. What was past is invasive and the artist concentrates, immerses himself within the overpowering darkening, departed or away enlarged in his surround. Woodcut is about severing time, being cut off from people, places, from what you have known, how isolation severs the covert artist perusing his work. Willey shows his history is cutting.
Woodcut by Philip Willey
Strawberry Fields by Philip Willey
Simon is a groovy young rock writer in Swinging London who always manages to be in the right place at the right time. We follow him to the TV studios where Ready Steady Go is produced, then on to the flat of art dealer Robert Fraser where only the hippest of the hip hang out. He drives out to Weybridge to visit John Lennon, Abbey Road Studios where Sergeant Pepper is being made, and the Bag of Nails club for the London debut of Jimi Hendrix. Many years later, in Bermuda, he reflects on his life and has an encounter with John Lennon’s ghost. All that in 54 pages, illustrated by local (Victoria) artists. Fact or fiction? Or a mixture of both? Read it and decide for yourself.
Strawberry Fields Forever
Writer: LENNON, JOHN / MCCARTNEY, PAUL / HARRISON, GEORGE
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Last year, Philip Willey published a book called Days in the Life, a near autobiography throughout a spatial metaphor, a time warping fancy. Strawberry Fields, the cover titled to relate to the John Lennon et al song. The Willy was the ‘rock writer’, knew John Lennon. In Willey’s latest travels to Bermuda where he passed by strawberry fields daily, Willey envisioned and wrote about John Lennon’s ghost - Lennon also once travelled to Bermuda.
Strawberry Fields is the idyllic forever, low-growing rosaceous plants in rows find the later configuration of John Lennon in his whites, more of a ghostly float than a saunter along the tidy growing lines of aggregates. The destination, if there is ever a destination, in the distance a large house adorned with a few palms under a clear blue sky. Willey figures the house with white harmoniously, drawing us away from the caricature sketch of the Lennon apparition. What is substantial is the dwelling, the commemoration of distant domesticity, the physical structure, unmarked, nearly immaculate in memory, a little muted. Lennon is white too, although there is diffidence to the character, back toward the viewer.
The Beatles song venerated the drug culture of the 60s that induced psychotropic visions, altered perception, mood, and reactions. Willey portrays the sentiment of those times nostalgically, his orderly fields slight curvature, his pristine although jaunty Lennon leisurely strolls on unplanted ground to signify what is vacancy can be transplanted. The potency of Lennon’s agreeable cultivating is still hanging about and for Willey, perennial - at the same time, an imposition. The strawberry fields grow away from the dwelling; the influence brought forward where the indicated rosy reflective memories are down with the strawberries and remain in the domain of Lennon’s apparition. Willey’s humour pervasively courts the unreality of memory, and the unreal is really nothing to get hungabout.
Finca2 by Philip Willey
Philip Willey: A finca is a Spanish farmhouse......call it Formentera if you like.....that's the Spanish island where we lived.
An ancient stead, fincas date back centuries. Willey’s home in Spain, where he and his wife began their lives together is warm, evocative of lightness, glowing with fond memories. Insubstantial peach shade chromatically released over the austere homescape, pastel blithe. The faint hung washing, line, the ladder to the second story – evocations of simplicity, relocated lifestyle memories. The turquoise atmosphere radiates holding the white farmhouse presence, the finca farming longing. Foreground cacti prickles gently, with pink blossoms shooting upward. There is always something that blooms here, in Willey’s memoirs.
(Road to) Goulimine by Philip Willey
Debora Alanna: And Goulimine referrers the place in Morocco and to Jean-Michel Basquiat, right?
Philip Willey: Yes that's right. The full title is 'Road to Goulimine'. The Basquiat figure was added last.....it seemed to fit. I think that picture is about death.....you can say that if you want.
The Berber tribe is called the Tamazight... They left some stone carvings in the Atlas mountains. I think they call themselves Amazigh...
Willey adventures, decisively. Goulimine or Goulimin, Morocco, often nicknamed Gateway to the Desert (la porte du désert) is Willey’s portal to the space between life and what is beyond, also known as death, the great divide. The deserted life. A curved line of global swirls on the right emulating the sun-like marks repeating the spheres the Tamazight carved into the sandstone centuries ago, reminiscences of his discoveries in Morocco, an awakening for Willey. He paints those memorable Amazigh impressions from his youth, scorching and distressing. Churlish swirls of circling anger in the upper air roar soundless as the mostly faceless group to our left includes a person covering their ears. The reluctant audience, a daunted public cringes to the whorl of wailing, the sound of death sinisterly silent.
Beads used for trading in Africa, later commonly called the Italian name for them, millefiori, (mille – thousand / fiori – flowers) were originally fired clay or precious stone inlays, later predominantly Murano glass, and found in ancient burial sites world wide. Traded for slaves, goods, Willey’s trading tokens are enlarged, suspended around the devilish Basquiat figure. Basquiat fought devilish substances, painted devils, perhaps even painted the devil on his dope dealer’s door prior to his death.  Willey is trading life for death? Staving off death? Causality has a relationship to the efficacy of art, which may be life or death. Willey surrounds his Basquiat devil with trading beads, honouring the painter’s slaving, relinquishing himself to his art. Death to those that are anonymous? What a devilish conundrum. Death trades with no one. Not even artists, Philip Willey!
In the distance of my years I cover myself with time
Like a blanket which enfolds me with the layers of my life.
What can I tell you except that I have gone
nowhere and everywhere?
What can I tell you except that I have not begun
my journey now that it is through?
All that I ever was and am yet to be
lies within me now this way.
― Nancy Wood, Many Winters: Prose and Poetry of the Pueblos
Journey to the East is the poster image for “The Journey” exhibition, and the painting was included in Willey’s show. This work is layers of Willey’s life, a collection of snapshots, sequencing, a record and assembly of his continuity of process. This is Willey’s journey, his windows of opportunity that he lived through, transits. An amalgam of scenes, imbibed with affection. Willey has lived as a traveller within Asia and surrounding directions, North Africa, the mystic places that have informed his oeuvre, Willey found his focal point in the East, and continues to pivot his imagination Easterly, burnishing this painting with living memory. Wiley intensifies and materializes like emergent sunshine.
 George Berkeley, Philosopher (1685 – 1753)
 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. “The Primacy of Perception and Its Philosophical Consequences,” from The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays, pp. 121-27. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1964. Translation © 1964 by Northwestern University Press.