At Calendrillo Gallery, New Artist Explores Zen Art

Written by Dana Agmon. Posted in Volume 37, Issue 9 - January 21, 2017

Philip Smallwood’s interest in art has been “life-long.” However, the Boston-bred furniture designer did not start his artistic journey until later in his life. Now, combining years of art education with the study of eastern religions and Asian paintings, Smallwood has found a new outlet for his artistic passion in Zen art.

Smallwood’s upcoming exhibit, The Art of White Space, which opened January 18 at the Paul Calendrillo Gallery at 507 Main Street, highlights abstract Sumi-e style Zen painting, honoring the white space that gives purpose to the line drawn on it.


“In eastern philosophy, actual perfection only exists in a white sheet, a blank piece of paper – a pure state of mind… as few deviations as possible is closer to the truth, the unblemished,” explains Smallwood.

He says it was the philosophy behind the art that drew him to this genre. “The spontaneity and organic nature of the art form is freeing and therapeutic. I have long been fascinated with Eastern philosophy as a premise that each breath following the first is moving away from that perfect state. I am consciously trying to complete the image in as few strokes as possible. Simplicity and economy of means are the cornerstones of my approach to this art.”

While Smallwood remains true to the philosophy of the art, he breaks from the traditional Sumi-e technique and uses his own brushes and vivid watercolors instead.

According to Smallwood, “The premise of Zen art is to evoke deep thoughts from simple but deliberate forms of the Zen artist. Zen artists believe that great economy of means is necessary to express the purity and simplicity of the eternal nature of the subject, to evoke thought into the essence of reality as opposed to the illusion of reality.”

In his show, he plays with the idea of the positive and negative in Zen, where white represents the positive space (the ying which no yang can exist without). “The positive and the negative space are equal players for the necessary balance, and the reason why this art form has existed for thousands of years,” says Smallwood.

Although Smallwood had no formal training, he was drawn to art for many years and took numerous art classes in college before enjoying a satisfying career in furniture design and manufacturing. One could say he has been an artist all his life, using different forms to express his creativity.

When asked to select a favorite of his paintings, Smallwood declines. “Because these paintings are exercises in visual breathing, they allow me to unclutter thoughts and dilemmas. It may take several attempts to produce the desired effect but each attempt, in its own right, is a specific question and a specific answer. There are no favorites, rather good and bad questions.”

Gallery owner Paul Calendrillo calls Smallwood “the most skillful water colorist he has ever met,” adding that “one needs to look very closely to determine if the paintings are oil or watercolor.”

The Art of White Space is their first show together. The exhibit will run until February 11 at the Paul Calendrillo New York Art Gallery at 507 Main Street. www.paulcalendrillo.com.

Tags: People Art & Music Dana Agmon

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