Do you know an artist who is so sharp that difficult things seem to come easy? Well, I do, and his name is Philip Roberts. I met Philip when he walked into a class I was teaching, All About Wholesale. Now most of the students in this class are just starting their journey into a new venture for their handmade business, so imagine my surprise when I found out Philip had a 10 x 10-foot, hard-wall, corner booth at the show the very next day.
And the booth looked terrific! The walls were painted a trendy dark gray which showed off his great wood artwork perfectly. His lighting, one of the most important elements at a show, was also perfect. His booth was open and welcoming, and being a very sharp guy, Philip had created wood crates to carry his artwork and these served as counters for his marketing materials.
But there is no doubt, the pièce de résistance of his booth was his stunning, multi-layered, laser cut, wood panels. For someone like myself, who has been going to large art shows for more than thirty years, I caught my breath. Here was new work that was unique, stunning and beautifully presented – and from a young guy at his very first wholesale show. Wow!
It was only recently that I learned of Philip’s background. With a BS in Visual Media Arts, he began by making tables. While these were lovely and handmade, they were just tables – end tables, conference tables, and dining room tables. While they might be tailored to a customer’s request, such as size and finish, they were still tables. While I never saw them, it’s clear they were pretty great, because his business grew to where he, and his 12 carpenter employees, were selling 100 to 120 each month. The downside? Philip was always working. Feeling he was missing that all-important “quality of life,” he sold the business at the ripe old age of 27 and decided to go back to his design roots.
The results are wondrous and transfixing! Philip creates amazing laser cut relief sculptures, composed of twelve layers, each with its own intricate design. He calls his work “problem solving” both in the design and the manipulation of the wood which “is a living thing.” He may spend an entire week designing and building a prototype only to find it displeasing. And so, he begins the design process anew.
In size, his sculptures range from 16 x 6-inches to 48 x 32-inches and after making each a few times, he retires the design, never to make it again. Selling both wholesale and retail, Philip finds advantages to both. Having his work in high end galleries like the Smithsonian’s Renwick Museum has helped him establish a credible reputation with collectors. Selling retail at a few high-end shows puts him in touch with the actual art collectors. Philip loves their feedback and uses his sharp focus to mine their comments to find new and interesting ideas.
Looking to the future, Philip wants his designs to be even more adventuresome, his on-line store, philip-roberts.com, even busier, and attend just three or four shows a year. He is still amazed and honored that people choose to spend their money on a “kid from New Jersey” but of course that’s because his work is so compelling. He’s still concerned about “his quality of life balance,” but I am pretty sure he’ll work that out. While he is unassuming and easy- going, Philip is simultaneously ravenous for information and learns at the speed of light. In fact, he’s a laser sharp, very exciting, young artist!