Dead tree artist brings unique pieces to HCC gallery

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by Sherry Williams / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on July 17, 2013 at 7:14 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jul 17 at 7:20 PM

HOUSTON—When city workers started cutting down thousands of dead trees in Galveston after Hurricane Ike, some residents said it felt like pulling the plug on old beloved patients.

Then someone called a surgeon.

James Phillips is a wood-carver, an artist who doodles with a chainsaw. He turns old dead trees into things of beauty.

Phillips had always done drawings as a child. Then he said he took a “30 year break from art.” Eight years ago, however, he picked up a chainsaw and started carving a pelican out of a tree in his yard. Someone dared him to “do it again.”

He did.

Then after Hurricane Ike, a Galveston woman, dismayed by the prospect of cutting down all the dead trees for firewood, connected with Phillips who began turning them into standing pieces of art.

Presently he is exhibiting his work at Houston Community College’s art gallery on the West Loop South.

The exhibit, which runs this month, features pieces created in Phillips’ work shop. In addition to working with the city of Galveston, Phillips also creates on-site works for private individuals.

“The very first commissioned tree I did down in Galveston was the Tin Man and Toto and I was mortified. I was mortified,” Phillips said. “Course, bear in mind, I’ll do anything. So, (I said) ‘Yeah, man!’ I got all charged up about it. People love that thing. It’s hilarious and it was fun to do.”

Typically his work takes a week to complete. On-site creations cost $2,000 to $3,000. Portable pieces created in Phillips’ workshop from hunks of wood, range from $750 to $1,500.

Phillips said the job’s only downside is sawdust.

“If I dig in my ear right now I betcha I can find sawdust,” he said.
But he loves what he does. He said everyone should.

“We have so few laps around the sun and I think it’s important to do stuff,” Phillips said. “I think it’s important that you make stuff and it doesn’t matter what it is....It’s really not about the piece. It’s about the doing it. I enjoy making it.”

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