Photography: Zspop Editing
Male Grooming: Kendall Dempster
Hints of his native Haiti announce themselves in artist Guy Stanley Philoche’s expressive use of color, blocked, bold and beckoning with a lifetime of emotions thoughtfully layered within.
A glimpse of his Connecticut schooling – the beginning of a love affair with art during a high school field trip, mastering mediums at Paier College then upping his game at Yale – comes through in paintings perfectly executed and unfailingly engaging, voicing thoughts and feelings locally born and universally appealing. But it is in New York, where he has lived and evolved for some twenty years, that defines him today as the people’s artist. His art is all about communication, delivered with a playful magnetism and philanthropic intellect full of possibilities and impossible to resist.
We had the good fortune of meeting Guy during Miami Art Week (Art Basel), where his art and his heart captured ours. Like his paintings, he radiates enthusiasm for life in all its incantations, turning memories into moments immortal and important. That he and his work had us at hello is a given. That his love for humanity, unconditional and unfailing, took it to a new level of admiration is the reason why the world should know more about him. Our conversations, like his art, revealed the personal side of his public persona and his steadfast dedication to sharing his craft not only with an audience of inspired admirers but with aspiring artists as well.
As he tells it, Guy really didn’t know much about art as a child, growing up as he did in a family of athletes whose passion for sports dominated the household and whose dreams for their sons didn’t include the idea of his becoming a starving, struggling artist. What he did know was that he loved cartoons and comics books and that he was pretty adept at copying images, creating picture-perfect lookalikes that don’t come easy to anyone other than the artistically talented.
“I remember a time when I was in my fourth-grade art class drawing a picture, and my teacher came over to my desk and asked me if I traced the picture I was working on. I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t know what tracing was. I did know that you could put something in my face and I could draw it but her comment didn’t mean much to me then. I had my ‘Oprah aha moment’ in high school when we took a field trip to a museum, and I saw Rothkos and Picassos, along with Monets and other greats that took my breath away. That’s when I fell in love with art and realized that was what I wanted to do for a living.”
His parents, West Indian traditionalists who emigrated to America to give their children a better life, weren’t so eager to come on board with his plans.
“They wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer or get a government job where I would benefit from a lifelong pension. After all their sacrifices on our behalf, they did not want to see me struggle to make a living or scrub toilets as my mother would often say. They strongly opposed the path I wanted to choose and made it very clear that they would not support me in this fantasy of mine. Even then, I really didn’t blame them for thinking that way, but I was determined to follow my dreams come what may.”
After graduating from high school, he kissed his parents good bye and headed off to art college on his own dime. He was 17 years old and worked his way through school attending classes by day, bartending at night and weekends. It was a grind and the most difficult time of his life, he admits, but worth every late night and lost night’s sleep. He dabbled in a variety of genres before finding his niche in contemporary art, channeling the vibrant color palette and style of 20th-century abstract artist Mark Rothko and making it his own.
His first series of works, “Untitled,” pays homage to the influence Rothko had on his work. Rothko’s work is all about expressing human emotions through immersive works that bring viewers to tears. According to experts at the Museum of Modern Art, “Rothko painted to plumb the depths of himself and the human condition. For him, art was a profound form of communication, and art making was a moral act.”
When Guy’s Untitled series first debuted in New York with tactile, abstract expressionist paintings, it turned heads in the art world, with critics and collectors alike proclaiming that “his colors drew people in but the texture and break up of space was ingenious.” Philoche wanted his viewers to immerse in his work, feeling, touching and smelling it to engage all their senses.” The paintings did what he hoped, selling well, launching his career and moving people with the power of art.
Untitled, introduced when he was relatively unknown after a decade of pounding the pavements in the city, rightfully catapulted him into an elite group of talents whose work hangs with the movers and shakers of the city he loves. You’ll find his signature pieces in the esteemed corporate collections of money men from Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch and Barclay Investments. You’ll see them in the star-studded residences of George Clooney, Uma Thurman and Tommy Hilfiger. You’ll view them in galleries in Palm Beach, Greenwich, New York and Nantucket and shows exhibiting the world’s best. And you’ll recognize them by the inherent sense of humanity, each stroke of the brush masterfully, thoughtfully and intentionally infusing the canvas with his personal, palpable perspectives on life.
Robust sales from that first series opened doors and floodgates for Philoche, who seized the momentum to show the world how he feels about life in pop-culture series that portray the nostalgic games his family played during his youth, heroic cartoon icons that evoke the age of innocence in works titled Love and Revolution, high-flying interpretations of the value of money with dollar bills doubling as paper airplanes and butterflies, and his playful painted reasons why he, we, will always love New York.
Each series is stamped with his goal of making people smile, of giving them pleasure and filling their senses with joy, gifts he enjoys and shares through his art.
“Art saved me,” he tells us, in an explanation so genuine and heartfelt it’s not difficult to fathom. He came to the United States from Haiti as a little boy, moving with his family, a trio of sons in tow, to Connecticut to start a new life. He didn’t speak the language and was daunted by the cold climate. He found solace and his newfound communication skills in the cartoons he watched on TV, making friends with the colorful caricatures as they taught him to speak English and provided the inspiration for the drawings he made in his room while his brothers played sports.
Later, when he experienced his first eye-opening field trip visit to an art museum which housed works by some of the most famous artists in the world, works he wanted to touch, something clicked inside of him that changed the course of his life forever. “I vowed then and there that I was going to make art that people can touch.” He did that and then some, making art that can touch people as well.
“Putting myself through art school was a gift,” he said, adding that had his parents paid for his college education he may not have had the drive to take the journey he has been on for the last twenty years. “I was raised in a family where failure was not an option so I persevered until I achieved my goals.”
That perseverance included knocking on the doors of countless galleries that weren’t interested in his work, stuffing Village Voice newspapers in high-net worth neighborhoods with some 2,000 flyers of his work every Wednesday night at midnight in hopes of a sale, and personally transporting his artwork on a dolly he pushed from his Upper East Side apartment to a lower Manhattan gallery for his first exhibition because he couldn’t afford to rent a van.
“My apartment was my work space. During the day I would paint all day and at night I would make my rounds and invite people over to look at my work. I turned my bed into a couch for business meetings and lived out a duffle bag for years. And thank goodness for Subway’s sandwich promotion ‘buy one, get one free’ that enabled me to eat during the leanest of times.”
Through it all he kept right on working, undeterred and uniquely dedicated to his craft.
“I don’t have the luxury of articulating my feelings sometimes. So therefore, I express my feelings in art.”
He did that during the pandemic when he got tired of people saying that New York is dead. To remind people of all the great things New York represents, Guy came up with a new series that combines the two things he loves to do in New York City: take pictures of everyday sights and capture enjoyable moments in time in his paintings. “Just remembering why New York is New York resonates with people. When we did the big reveal of this series in Art Miami, we realized how much people still love New York. The paintings were right on the mark and it was so gratifying to see how much they meant to the people who bought them.” Comprised of 10 mixed-media paintings, the collection was exhibited by Cavalier Gallery where he is currently represented and quickly became a highlight of Miami Art Week.
They were also timely. That’s another talent that Guy brings to the table, the ability to be ahead of the curve. “Sometimes as artists,” he explained, “your audiences aren’t even born yet.” A perfect example is his “No comment” series, painted a decade go, featuring powerful women who had high profile jobs but who weren’t part of that proverbial boys club culture.
“I thought these were probably some of the most powerful works I had ever done and I was super excited. I remember shopping them to my dealers and collectors. And guess what, nobody wanted to touch them,” he explained. Fast forward 10 years later, after the much publicized “Me Too” movement, and those works have sold out.
How did he stay confident in the days before his big break? He powered through it knowing he had something people wanted. Talking to him, we also knew he worked hard to be the best he could be because as he said before, success was his only option.
“What you need to know about me,” he said, “is that no one opened doors for me. I was that kid that went through the back door and through the window just to get to the room. Now I actually have a seat at the table in the room. Being an artist is not for everybody but, I’m making it my obligation to make sure I open doors for people who want to try.”
That’s another thing about Guy Stanley Philoche. While determined and tenacious on his own behalf, he does not have that competitive edge. Instead, he is interested in sharing the spotlight with other deserving artists. To that end, he has made good on his promise to buy a painting whenever he sells one of his, launching a collection of original works, which today is valued at more than $100,000, by artists ready for their close-up.
Serendipitously, I happened to watch a Kelly Clarkson show recently where Guy was a featured guest. During the show, Guy surprised a talented young painter by buying one of her pieces and showcasing it in an exhibition of new works. The look of sheer joy and happy tears on her face were mirrored on his and I knew I had just witnessed the unabridged secrets of Guy’s success.
Work hard, be kind and bring joy to those around you. And when it comes to purchasing art, buy what you love, buy what you love, and buy what you love. ☐
About the Artist
Guy Stanley Philoche is an internationally acclaimed contemporary artist and philanthropist whose mixed media abstract realist paintings voice richly textured, colorful images of daily life, past and present, in themed series that blend nostalgia with unspoken cultural commentary. He is represented by Cavalier Galleries, with locations in New York City, Greenwich, Connecticut, and Nantucket.
For more information, please contact Cavalier Galleries at 212.570.4696 or visit, www.cavaliergalleries.com