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Modern history

Madison artist Phagan
captures the past with modern style

‘Creepy Cool’ sculptures
attracts national attention

By Lela Jane Bradshaw
Contributing Writer

(December 2009) – Eric Phagan’s earliest childhood memory is one of art. “My first memory, in kindergarten I drew a picture of Bugs Bunny – made it life size. The teacher went crazy over it and hung it up.”

Eric Phagan

Photo by Lela Jane Bradshaw

Artist Eric Phagan is known in
Madison , Ind., for his paintings of
prominent landmarks, but elsewhere
it is his sculptures that have
drawn in the crowds.

The enthusiasm of his teacher and classmates for that one drawing would inspire the budding young artist to try and “top it,” to keep improving and keep working toward that next impressive piece. “You’ve got to keep people ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing,’ ” he explains with a smile.
While throughout southern Indiana Phagan, 30, is known as a painter of famous Madison landmarks, in national art circles it is his sculptures that are attracting attention and awards. In the past year, his work has been accepted into a range of prestigious juried exhibitions including his second appearance in the Lincoln, Calif., “Feats of Clay” show, and the Chicago A. Houberbocken Inc. 20th Annual Teapot Show.
At the 2009 Feats of Clay, his piece “Frankenstein” received a Purchase Award – this following the sculpture’s Award of Merit at the 2008 “HWD” Ohio sculpture competition and show. Closer to home, Phagan’s mixed media piece “Horse” received the Best in Show Award at the third annual Spring Juried Exhibition in Rising Sun, Ind.
While a selection of Phagan’s paintings, prints, and smaller sculptures are available for display and sale at Binzer’s Custom Framing in downtown Madison, much of his sculpted work winds up traveling to Hospitality Galleries in Orlando, where he has found an enthusiastic market. Phagan explains that “sculpture physically engages the viewer a lot more for me” in comparison to paintings. He also appreciates the timelessness of sculpture. “It’s always great to make something you know will be around a lot longer than you.”
While his art displays a strong contemporary look, it is also work that shows a strong dialog with the past. “I love the old buildings of Madison,” Phagan says. “Instead of giving the viewer just what they would see,” he works to portray “a sense of atmosphere” when painting the familiar city streets. This ability to capture the heart of a structure has led to his popularity as a painter of house portraits, allowing owners to enjoy artwork based on their own homes. Phagan consciously highlights the pull between past and present as he describes a recent painting completed in honor of the Madison Railroad’s 30th anniversary, “the kinetic lines give a timeworn, contemporary feel.”
Phagan’s artistic studies allowed him a basis in classical art that informs his own vision for the future. While competing his Bachelors of Fine Art at the Herron School of Art and Design – now part of Indiana University-Purdue University – Phagan had the opportunity to participate in the school’s study abroad program. “Studying in Paris you see a lot of the older work,” he says. The chance to view the famous and controversial Shroud of Turin that was on a rare public tour during his visit proved particularly inspirational.
“That sparked an interest in drawing with fire,” he recalls, “I took a stick, dipped in some gas and just started drawing with it.” The result was a massive 6x5-foot drawing of three figures, captured in a combination of scorch marks and charcoal.
In addition to external influences, Phagan looks to his own history for inspiration. “I like to take childhood memories mixed with ideology and current events to come up with this creepy cool sculpture,” he says.
In explaining his work he writes,”I create narratives by exposing the uneasy struggle between this world and the other, somehow similar world of my childhood imaginings...” This ability to tap into a child’s powerful, and sometimes frightening imagination helps give his work its unique look.
Fellow artist and owner of Binzer’s Custom Framing, Chip Binzer, explains the appeal of Phagan’s work saying, “I think it is because he does a different approach to colors. He uses black in a way a lot of artists don’t.”
His first exposure to Phagan’s work came when the then high school student brought in some of his pieces to be framed. Today, Phagan and Binzer work together in the framing studio.
“Chip has definitely been a big help,” Phagan said.
Phagan and his wife, Jessica, soon hope to open a gallery in downtown Madison and plans are in the works to teach art classes to children and adults.

• For more information, visit: www.EricPhaganart.com or www.BinzersCustomFraming.com.

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