Striking a Pose – Art Business News


We were intrigued with Mr. Courtney’s story after seeing it go viral on social media and reached out and asked him to tell us about his journey as an artist over the last 50 years. Enjoy!

Self Portraits by Phil Courtney in 1974 and 2024 respectively, courtesy of the artist

For more than 50 years, I have worked as a professional artist in both commercial and the fine arts, a painter in oils and watercolors. I am passionate about art, all art, and have been perfectly content with the support and recognition that I have received as an artist which is neither of great significance in the greater world of fine art or outstanding in financial gain. However, one small post, without agenda or intention, has seemed to blow up social media, with criticism, contention, conflict, and at the same time, praise, and respect. On several different platforms, I received over 150,000 likes, over 2,000 comments, and over 1,500 shares.

I posted side by side self-portraits painted in oils, that were done 50 years apart. One is the younger me, 21 years old while a student of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. The other is the 71-year-old me, painted after 50 years of painting and noticeably, 50 years of living. I’m an old guy now.

The reactions that followed on Instagram and Facebook were from several levels. They included the juxtaposition of a young man to an old guy, the differences between the 2 styles and which was better, and my skills as a painter-from complimentary to calling me a fraud. Religion, philosophical mumblings, and creepy messages were part of the commentary.

My style provoked a host of comments such as, “It’s a photograph”; “It’s AI”; “Why bother painting this way. Look at a photo”; “Painting realistically is pointless”; and more… Granted, many of these comments were knee jerk reactions, posted anonymously behind the veil of social media, without a thought to qualifying their opinion. It amazes me why some comments were so disrespectful, but that is the freedom of posting on social media.

On the flip side, the complimentary and supportive comments were greatly appreciated. Who doesn’t like compliments? “Incredible.”; “Amazing”; “Wow!”; “This speaks volumes. The growth alone is inspirational.”It literally saysNever give up, keep going and growing.’” “U make amazing paintings.” These are just a few samples from Instagram and Facebook posts.

It is important to provide some information about myself and my artwork. I paint in a realistic style. In my opinion, it is not a photo realistic style. All my work, whether in oils or watercolor, is realistic. It is what I find to be challenging and most personally satisfying. I use photographs as an initial platform for my final intention, as reference for many details like lighting, color, and texture. However, it is my intention to take my painting beyond the photo, editing as I paint, incorporating those details that will enhance the completed project and eliminating those that may clutter the composition and what I am trying to portray. There are some photographs that are best as just that, photographs. I don’t paint what shouldn’t be tampered with.

I am a graduate of The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia PA, where my focus of study was painting. Following my education, I was employed as a billboard artist for outdoor advertisers in the Philadelphia area. Working on location at heights of 60 to 160 ft, using a scaled drawing as a guide, I painted images realistically for advertisements to be viewed from the passing automobile traffic on the highways below. Billboard painting is now an art lost to digital reproductions on vinyl sheets, stretched over a frame. It was commonly thought that all billboards were posters. In fact, the largest boards were all painted, and only small signs were posted as you would wallpaper. I did not focus on my own artwork until my children were older, some 25 years after my graduation from art school.

It seems natural, that I would pursue a realistic painting style with my own work, which began with watercolors. Of course, there was a slight transition from painting 20-foot-high images to 20 inches, but I made the appropriate revisions. One irony of my story is that now, for the most part, my work is being viewed on a cell phone, approximately 6” x 3”. The average “dwell time” is 1-2 seconds for viewing cell phone images. The average time viewing a billboard while driving in a car is 6-8 seconds.

Sunset Color by Phil Courtney, courtesy of the artist

Each of my paintings is practice for the next. I continuously try new techniques, improving on what I know and have presumably mastered, making small changes to how the compositions move, and hopefully, becoming better at my craft with each painting. I continue to educate myself on the techniques of the masters or those whose work I personally admire. I am inspired by bits and pieces from many sources and each painting has small parts of this learning process. It should also be noted that combined with my art education, which can speak for itself, billboard painting provided a wealth of experience with recreating the illusion of real images with paint. My sole job in this field was to depict an image that was a replica of the real thing so that viewers would think it was a photograph. My ability to seamlessly blend colors didn’t come solely from talent. It is from 25+ years of painting in the air very quickly.

Happy Magnolia Flower by Phil Courtney, courtesy of the artist

I refer to my education, experience, and intentions as an artist for those who believe my paintings are photographs or AI. They are painted. They are not digital renderings, and I don’t have any experience using AI. For those who don’t care for realism in art, you are entitled to your opinion. I love all art and I appreciate fine composition, unique use of color and materials, skillful technique, and most importantly, the final impact that a piece has on my sensibilities. The parts making up the whole and the story they invoke are a fascination to me, but the final product is the show. Art is my passion. It is what I live and breathe. People like to offer their opinions on any matter, and they have that choice regardless of how those opinions were formed. It would be nice if they would ask more questions beforehand.

Thank you to everyone who participated in viewing my work and making comments.


Author’s Bio:

Phil Courtney is a graduate of The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Phila, PA. Following his education, he was employed as a billboard artist for outdoor advertisers in the Philadelphia area for more than twenty-five years. Phil began showing his own work after moving to Cape May, NJ in 1995 with his wife and children. His work has been shown locally at the former Washington Street Gallery, the SOMA NewArt Gallery, the FAN Gallery in Phila., The Ferry Gallery at the former Ferry Park. His work is also part of several private collections in South Jersey. Phil has also participated in the John Peto Museum International Juried Art Exhibitions. The Nature Center of Cape May featured Phil as their artist in residence for their annual fundraiser in 2019, “Catch of Cape May”. 

Phil has been teaching watercolor workshops for the past several years in the Cape May area and at the Rehoboth Art League. He paints a variety of subjects, indoors and out, using oils or watercolors. He is proficient in both mediums. Phil has developed techniques for capturing the unique atmospheric conditions of the seashore, and the play of sunlight and shadows cast by the intricate details of Cape May Victorian architecture. His oil paintings of flowers capture the very essence of their purity with the freshness of being just picked. They are luminescent and elegant, calling attention to the intricacies, textures, and the collaborating parts of the living whole.

Images all courtesy of Phil Courtney.

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