When Phil Epp and I started our interview, I did not quite know where to go, and I said, “so what has been happening in the last 10 years of your life? What has been important?”
He started up very quickly and that surprised me.
“Two things, really,” he said. “That trip to Kazakhstan, and then second would be when I joined the club Cowboy Artists of America, the CAA.”
Information from the website of the CAA states: “The Cowboy Artists of America are the vanguard of the Western art revival that began in the 1960s and they continue to set the mark for those who carry on the legacy today. The CAA Mission is to authentically preserve and perpetuate the culture of Western life in fine art.” This club’s membership is by invitation only.
Epp has been a member for two and a half years and it has opened all kinds of doors for him in terms of seeing what other artists are doing, and with marketing. Of course, it is kind of a boys’ club, and the camaraderie is swell, if you’re one of those. They meet in the fall for an exposition and a ride. Last year they all went to Oklahoma City, and Phil really looks forward to all of its events. Right now, he has been getting ready for the exhibition by finishing up seven new paintings for the October show.
“There are 22 members in the CAA, some of them are emeritus. The group has been in existence for 52 years and that makes it the longest living group in America,” Phil said.
But I do not know if he has heard of the group, “The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom,” which was launched in 1915. I have been an on-and-off member of that group. Of course, this is totally a girls’ club. It was known by President Woodrow Wilson and his Cabinet as “the most dangerous women in America.” I will have to ask Phil about that when I see him next.
To those of you not familiar with Phil Epp’s work, he enjoys painting “fantasy images of clouds and sky, or my versions of reality,” and they are lovely to look at. I expected to see walls full of those kinds of things, but there was only one, which was a work in progress, 40 by 30 inches, to be titled “Sunny and the Storm.” Sunny is a horse, and the clouds are dark and angry, and a thick sheet of rain is advancing across the plains. On his walls are works by some of his favorite artists, mostly by John Steuart Curry.
Epp also has done etchings and sculpture, some very nice stuff. There are some striking public art pieces around Newton. My favorite might be the water tower on 12th Street, three blocks from my house, and its subject is sky and clouds. It is illuminated at night and in winter, when the trees have lost their leaves, I can see it from our upstairs bathroom.
He has participated in art shows as a single artist, or shared the spotlight with others in the state of Kansas and beyond. His achievements include awards and “Best of Show(s).” Many of his paintings hang in permanent exhibits here and there.
One of my favorite paintings by Phil shows a train, and your mind goes directly to wondering how long it has been standing quietly on that track. It is night, and a very large blood moon illuminates a tiny stop — an elevator and a few outbuildings and undefinable shapes, maybe the beginnings of a pole barn. Three frisky horses graze in the background.
“One of my greatest achievements this year was to build a bed for naps,” he says, with a big grin.
There are bits of wood cuts on both the foot and head of the bed that remind one of Native American designs. And Phil bought some slightly worn woven blankets that are older Southwest pieces, and look just right with the bed.
I like the way he keeps on saying he doesn’t have much talent, but he has persistence. What is his inspiration, I ask him, over and over, and finally, an answer — “I drive around a lot,” he says, and you just know it’s true.
— Diana Fern Graber is a writer from Newton. She writes about the interesting people she meets.