Elizabeth Johnson Phillips


There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

— Maya Angelou


I am obsessed with a good story. Whether it’s a whopper from my child about why there’s no more ice cream or witty banter from Aaron Sorkin’s pen, stories bind us together. They are essential to humanity: to our ability to learn from the past, to share in another’s experience, to the life of faith, to love. We are our stories. And the stories we choose to tell illuminate our next steps.


Perhaps because my background comes from writing, my painting seeks to tell stories. Inspired by Impressionism and Fauvism, it is not enough for me to simply paint a landscape. I want you to experience what it is like to be in that landscape. Emily Smith, executive director of 1708 Gallery said, “[Elizabeth] uses colors that aren’t found in nature but completely capture what if feels like to be out there.” If I paint a picture of the pedestrian bridge to Belle Isle, I don’t want you just to say “Oh, that’s a nice bridge.” I want you to feel its sway, see the movement, and think, “Oh, good, we are almost back to the parking lot because I’ve run out of bug spray and my kids keep complaining that it's hot.”


I use acrylic paints because, for me, they are the most like writing. I can move quickly without having to pause to edit along the way. I use vibrant underpaintings as a first draft to let the mood of an image evolve. I use glazes to create layers and am not afraid to just paint over whole sections to edit. I rarely paint things exactly as they are found. My pre-painting process includes sketching, coloring photographs, image manipulation on the computer, going places with my kids and, above all, listening and remembering. I listen to audiobooks in my studio as I paint and attempt to choose books that suit the mood of the story I am painting.


My greatest influences are other storytellers—Vassilly Kandinsky, Norman Lewis, Georges Suerat, Henri Matisse, Doris Betts, Maya Angelou, David Sedaris, Johnny Cash, and David Bowie, just to name a few.


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