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North Vancouver teen wins National Gallery spot
Anyone who doubts that tattoos have crossed over into the mainstream will soon need look no further than the National Gallery of Canada.
There, in the country’s cultural vault, just down Sussex Drive from the Prime Minister’s house and Parliament Hill, on walls shared by Emily Carr and the Group of Seven, a teenage North Vancouverite’s ode to the art of needles, ink and skin will soon hang.
After an online voting campaign via Facebook “Likes,” Erica Phillips, 19, finished in third place this week in the national gallery’s Canada-wide “So You Want To Be An Artist” contest for budding Robert Batemans.
Having now beat out nearly 200 other young artists, Phillips is one of just a dozen finalists whose work will hang next month in the national gallery where a panel of experts will choose one winner from the lot on June 5.
The North Van finalist’s four-part work, Totem, is a series of vertically arranged acrylic “portraits” that Phillips did more as experiments in non-traditional portraiture than as part of any prize-winning plan.
The paintings play with the idea that tattoos are totems that signify the wearer’s lineage and their permanent, public commitment to their identity, Phillips says.
“I was really interested in showing someone’s personality and doing a portrait of someone but without showing faces,” she tells The Outlook in the living room of her family home. “And by putting a unique piece of art permanently on your body, it creates the same thing as showing a portrait of a person’s face — it’s an identifier.”
The Emily Carr University of Art + Design student says she’s never been to the national gallery before, let alone to Eastern Canada. But if she wins, she plans to take her younger sister on a cross-country trip to see her work in the capital.
But really, she says, it’s just nice to be nominated.
“I’ve never been involved in a contest or anything quite like this before and it’s interesting to see how many people I could get from Facebook to actually vote,” Phillips says. “It shows you that any artist — especially if they’re just emerging now — to get their career going has to use the Internet and social media to create a presence and an identity for themself.”
And creating an identity is precisely what Totem explores — albeit an identity in a much more physical and permanent sense than online.
“I find it so interesting the whole phenomenon of tattoos and how it’s become a really accepted thing,” Phillips says. “The whole world is moving in the direction that they’re going to be accepted, that it’s not a taboo thing any more and I think that’s just great.”
In fact, Phillips says certain websites dedicated to tattoo art were instrumental in helping get her contest work out in front of the public and in getting the votes needed to succeed.
“I like tattoos and have always been inspired by them,” she continues.
“But I don’t have any... yet.”
First prize in the “So You Want To Be An Artist” contest is a round-trip for two to Ottawa, two nights’ accommodation and meals, a behind-the-scenes visit to the national gallery to learn about careers in the visual arts, an expert portfolio review by a professional curator and a $500 gift certificate for art supplies from the University of Ottawa.
Second and third prize are a $1,000 gift certificate and a $500 gift certificate for art supplies from the university, respectively.