Tony Pharo, an American artist hailing from upstate New York, made a life-altering shift by relocating to California, where he now calls Irvine home. Having embraced sobriety for seven years, he's deeply rooted in California and finds everyday inspiration for his Modern and Contemporary Art. Although Pharo sees his work kindred to talents like George Condo and George Morton-Clark, he diverges from conventional painting classifications. Instead, taking part in a Neo- expressionist movement, wherein the exploration of self-reflection is encapsulated through narrative imagery. He transcends the boundaries of traditional artistic categories, contributing to a dynamic and evolving artistic landscape that seeks to delve deeper into the realms of personal introspection and self-narration.
Pharo's paintings, described as expressive and dynamic, defy limits with colors colliding and lines weaving in chaotic yet beautifully nihilistic patterns. The ‘Noisy Mind’ he describes is prominent among the whimsical, familiar characters from childhood years. He adeptly selects characters to mirror a personal narrative, all the while revealing the complicated role of nostalgia in contemporary pop culture. It is the simplicity of materials and the gestural spontaneity that allows the emotions to speak louder than his ‘noise’. Breaking free from the Limits and dogmas of art norms, his gestures transform into a body language that evoke a beautiful nihilism while possessing a childlike innocence.
Embracing inclusivity and accessibility within the realm of art, he perceives it not merely as a form of creative expression but as his therapeutic outlet, particularly instrumental in coping with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). He finds a sanctuary for his emotions, a space where the inherent inclusivity of artistic expression becomes a powerful means to navigate and cope with the complexities associated. In this way, art serves not only as a mode of self-expression but as a therapeutic medium, providing solace and aiding while liberating him from past traumas and beliefs.
Despite his relatively short time in the art world, Pharo has managed to make a significant impact by exhibiting his artwork in galleries and exhibitions throughout the US supported by institutions such as Sotheby’s. This accomplishment not only underscores the rapid development of his artistic prowess but also serves as a testament to the distinctive and captivating vision he brings to the creative sphere. Through these gallery exhibitions, Pharo has been able to share his evolving talent with a diverse and international audience, leaving an indelible mark on the artistic landscape.
In addition to his work as a painter, Pharo has cultivated a passion for art collecting that traces back to the moment he received his first Andy Warhol book. This marked the inception of his collection, and his journey as a collector began with his first acquisition of a piece by the iconic artist. Pharo's approach to collecting mirrors his painting style, characterized by a spontaneous and instinctive connection to the art in the moment. His collection boasts notable pieces from artists like Jahlil Nazinga, an original Arkiv Vilmansa, Kaws, and Basquiat. These acquisitions feature bold strokes that articulate contemporary critique, showcasing Pharo's discerning taste and deep engagement with the art world.
Embarking on his artistic journey with a unique and personal approach, Pharo offers insights into his creative world in a candid interview with ARTCOLLECTORNEWS. Delving into his ideas and ideals, he provides a genuine and unfiltered outlook on both art and life, serving as a source of inspiration, opening up about the intricacies of his creative process, the influences that shape his work, and the deeper meanings embedded in his art.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Please tell us a bit about yourself and your artwork?
I don't come from an artistic or creative background. Just a few years ago, I used to tell people that I couldn't draw anything beyond stick figures. My life took a turn eight years ago when I moved to Southern California after experiencing homelessness for three months. A challenging conversation with my sister and a realization after 12 years of struggling with drug and alcohol abuse motivated me to take a chance on life.
It wasn't until COVID hit that I delved into anything creative or artistic. In October 2020, on a random night, I created my first piece of art. Fuelled by my passion for business, motivating others, my life experiences, and my newfound creative spirit, I've developed a deep obsession with painting. The evolution isn't just within me and my practice but extends to the continuous transformation of the art itself.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your background shaped your artistic practice?
The experiences of my past, when I was a frightened, angry, and lost young individual resorting to drugs and alcohol to cope with a tumultuous upbringing and a noisy mind, have paved the way for a lifelong quest for self-discovery. Through painting, I embark on a journey of self-exploration, using my distinctive movements, markings, and characters on canvas to weave a narrative that empowers and motivates others.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What made you shift into art professionally, and what did you do previously? Do you feel this influences your artwork in any way?
I developed a deep passion for art from the start. Recognizing the immense value of Instagram as a crucial tool for networking and scaling within the art industry, despite lacking prior experience or a creative background, fuelled my determination to persevere. Coming from a sales background as the VP of Sales for a manufacturing company in Southern California, my affinity for startups and the psychological aspects of marketing, coupled with my passion for motivating others, made this industry truly captivating for me. It's a space where I can explore myself, experience constant growth, delve inward, inspire others through my work, all while building and expanding a business.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your creative process changed over the years?
In the brief span of three years, I've come to understand that my creative process is destined to continually shift and evolve. Initially lacking a set schedule, I progressed to dedicating endless hours to painting. From impulsively buying random materials, I now operate in a dedicated studio, focusing on conveying a concise theme or story on unprimed canvas using specific media tailored to that particular idea. The essence lies in embracing vulnerability, experimenting within my process, retaining what works or feels right, and continually progressing—always striving for more and nurturing that lifeforce within.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How has your artwork itself evolved since you first started making art?
I vividly recall my initial piece—a chaotic blend of acrylic on a budget-friendly canvas panel pad, driven solely by the intention to explore without prior thoughts or ideas. Three years later, I feel I've truly understood the essence of 'intention' in my work, movements, and passion. Consistently, my objective is to infuse more intention into
everything I create, from the initial sketch that serves as a guide to the skeletal structure of my pieces, to the deliberate movements expressed through charcoal and oil on unprimed, raw canvas.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What inspired you to become an artist?
At the recommendation of my therapist during the COVID pandemic, I explored the idea of taking up a creative hobby. After some research, I decided to purchase a used SONY a6600. However, after about three months, I found myself feeling bored with photography. It was then that my therapist suggested trying painting, a suggestion I had heard from several people over the years, which had lingered in my subconscious. A few weeks later, I finally bought painting supplies and gave it a try. Since then, I haven't stopped.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any particular artists or movements that have greatly influenced your work? In what way?
The list is extensive, often changing on a weekly basis as I closely examine the work of various artists, much like my approach to music. These phases of admiration for different artists have become an integral part of my identity and creative process. Notable figures on my ever-evolving list include Cy Twombly, Christopher Wool, George Condo, George Morton-Clark, Devon DeJardin, Matt Gondek, William de Koonig, and Joyce Pensato.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How did you arrive at your style? What can you tell us about your individual style and visual language?
I firmly believe that my artistic style is in a perpetual state of development. I am continuously evolving, and as a result, my perspective and style undergo constant change. This sentiment extends to all of us—we are perpetually changing and evolving beings. The essence lies in the fusion of movements conveyed through charcoal or oil in my artworks. It exudes a raw, intentional, and liberating quality that encapsulates the ever-changing nature of my artistic expression.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: How do you select your themes?
Creating characters holds a unique significance and emotional resonance for me. I harbor a deep affection for these characters, and they serve as the central focus of my artistic endeavors. The selection and creation of characters shape the foundation of my work, with every element carefully crafted around the chosen character. This approach, centered on characters, imparts a sense of purpose to my paintings, which is paramount to me. My artistic process involves not only depicting what I desire to see but also intuitively capturing what feels right and works harmoniously within the artwork.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What has been the most rewarding part of your career as a studio artist?
For me, it's about establishing connections, inspiring individuals, and challenging their minds—all while building a business. The ultimate objective is to inspire children, driven by my therapeutic efforts to heal my own inner child. I believe that by instilling this sense of healing and inspiration in children from a young age, we contribute positively to society. At least, that's my hopeful perspective.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Please tell us about your latest body of work
My most recent collection, titled 'smorgasbord,' delves into the stresses, anxieties, and fears prevalent in modern society. It takes the form of an abstracted, deconstructed, and automatist portrait, offering a unique exploration of these complex emotions.
I'm thrilled about several pieces I'm creating for a private collection, providing me with an avenue to delve into both self-exploration and a deeper examination of society. The collector, a successful Real Estate Developer, offers valuable quarterly feedback from viewers. To continually evolve my work, I experiment with different techniques and media, eagerly seeking both positive and negative feedback. This ongoing relationship has spanned about 14 months, and I am sincerely grateful for the continued opportunity it provides.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think is the most important aspect of creating successful artwork?
Being an artist is a continuous, year-round commitment, with no off-switch. My mind is always engaged in thoughts about my work and what I can create next. There might be a hint of fear in this constant contemplation, the uncertainty of having the next artistic endevor. I find myself spending periods sketching until I feel prepared to transition to painting. Unlike my previous approach of drawing directly onto the canvas without a plan, I now recognize the importance of a more structured process. This shift allows me to develop my ideas more extensively, providing a skeleton to work from while still allowing room for improvisation during the creative process.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Describe your process of creating a new artwork from concept to completion.
Certainly, my sketchbook holds significant importance. Previously, I would embark on my artworks without a sketch, but now, I rarely undertake any piece without a preliminary sketch. It serves as a guiding framework or skeleton for the entire artwork.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What is your favourite medium to work with? Please tell us a bit about how the medium influences or supports the ideas behind your work
Choosing a favorite tool can be challenging and depends on my mental space, but if I had to pick, it would be my charcoal, specifically General’s 6B compressed charcoal. Despite having a variety of charcoal options, I have a special affinity for how the 6B variant interacts with both primed and unprimed raw canvas. I consider myself a raw and direct individual, and the connection between my persona and the use of charcoal on raw canvas is synonymous—raw, direct, and deeply personal. Each stroke with this charcoal leaves no room for ambiguity, conveying unmistakable emotions and movements. I cherish the diverse intensity that each piece carries within.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any techniques you have developed that you use consistently in your artwork?
I prefer working with my left hand, considering it my uncoordinated hand. Delving into research on the connection between our uncoordinated hand and our inner child, I like to think that, as I create raw and organic pieces, I am simultaneously engaged in the process of healing my inner child and providing a safe space for their expression to emerge.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What has been the most memorable artwork you have created? What makes this piece memorable?
"Plethora of Personality" is a creation on unprimed, raw, heavy cotton. Dealing with OCD and Generalized Anxiety (GAD), I navigate through a range of emotions and mood swings daily, sometimes even hourly. This particular piece stands out as it authentically captures the essence of my self-expression in the body of work I've been producing. It serves as one of the more revealing pieces, offering a genuine glimpse into who I am.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What was the most challenging piece you have ever created? How much do you think the effort you put into creating a work is important vs the idea behind it?
There's a piece that marked my first venture into incorporating resin into my practice, titled 'Layers.' Over three weeks, I dedicated my efforts to developing the initial layers as abstraction. In a meticulous process, I added a layer of resin onto the abstraction and overlaid it with another transparent layer. The result, while time-consuming and demanding, brought me immense satisfaction. In my approach, both the effort invested and the conceptual idea hold equal importance. I believe that having a developed idea or theme before starting a piece or series acts as a guiding skeleton. This allows me to delve deeper into the narrative through sketches. Typically, by the third piece of a series or theme, I gain a strong sense of the direction the work is taking and the story it intends to convey.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Can you tell us a bit about a few specific pieces you have created that you are particularly proud of?
The artwork 'Intention Within Color & Movement' holds significant meaning for me. It stands out as one of the rare instances where I adhered closely to the initial sketch and theme I had in mind. I aimed for an overall minimalistic approach but sought to captivate the viewer with vibrant colors and dynamic movements achieved through pastels and charcoal application.
Another piece, 'Poetry In Motion,' is a source of pride for me. It diverged from my usual process as I felt strongly about it upon completion, despite starting with no sketch or theme. The only guiding principle was the use of three general characters representing distinct moments in my life. Each character corresponded to a different moment, and the accidental spill of inkjet ink on the canvas sparked the evolution of the idea, leading to a natural and organic abstraction centered around spilled drinks and similar elements.
In nearly every artwork, I make a deliberate choice to incorporate charcoal, oil, and oil pastels as part of the media. This serves as a means to cultivate a childlike approach to creating, keeping me connected to my inner child and grounded in the present moment. The application of these materials induces a primitive feeling, enhancing the sense of spontaneity. Breathwork plays a significant role in my process, particularly when working with charcoal. It allows for an organic movement, manifesting as automatism on canvas. This aspect of my practice is something I deeply cherish, as it fosters a profound connection between myself and my work, anchoring me in the present moment.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Please tell us about the particular materials or techniques you use to create your artwork and how they influence your work and practice?
I'm eager to delve into the realms of working with cold and hot wax mediums. Recently, I've been immersing myself in studying the process, and I plan to initiate hands-on practice with the application soon.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: Are there any techniques or materials you would like to learn how to use in the future?
At present, I am in the midst of an exploration that delves into the stresses, anxieties, and paranoia prevalent in modern society. This exploration takes the form of abstracted and deconstructed portraits, focusing on characters from my childhood.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What themes or topics are you exploring in your current artwork?
What I find truly captivating about painting and the creative process is the boundless exploration of everything and anything.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think is the most important skill a studio artist should have?
Awareness of Self.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What do you think has been the biggest challenge in your creative career?
Not Listening to the thoughts I convince myself are true.
ARTCOLLECTORNEWS: What advice would you give to aspiring studio artists?
Persist in pursuing your dreams. I transitioned from a homeless drug addict to a homeowner in Southern California, earning a living through painting, and, most significantly, attaining freedom from self. Anything is possible in this life.