Although he’s 27 years old, Lummi Nation artist Phillip Solomon says life-changing events that began at about age 17 kept him from seriously pursuing art until a couple years ago. Since then, he’s been doing all he can to play catch-up, including painting on everything from canvases to shoes. When his new exhibit, “Salish Stories,” opens this weekend, Solomon will be on hand to share his work.
Cascadia Weekly: When did you first become interested in making art?
Phillip Solomon: I first started drawing when I was a kid, in school and at home. I spent a number of years in foster homes, practicing with a pencil and notebook paper that the tribe gave to us for free. When I was 15, I moved to Tulalip with my mom. I started to get in a lot of trouble, and my art was on hold for 10 years—until I moved back to Lummi. It seemed like when I came home, my gift and passion for art were renewed.
CW: Did you get encouragement along the way?
PS: Various members of our tribe saw my art, critiqued it and gave me encouragement and inspiration to continue on pursuing a career in it. My immediate family has always nudged me to do art professionally. I think the renewal I experienced drew me closer to my culture and creative side and helped me seriously decide to make art for a living.
CW: You fuse the traditional and contemporary in your art. Is this a conscious decision?
PS: Many artists pull from multiple Northwest traditions, but I decided it was important for me to focus on Salish designs because that is what is traditional at Lummi. I find fusing traditional Salish images with contemporary humor comes from a culmination of everything I have learned about art. I love humor and to laugh. Native people have great senses of humor, and I really enjoy capturing that in my art.
CW: Why is it important to keep traditional designs in the mix as part of your artistic process?
PS: The metaphors and lessons found in Coast Salish art are universal. People are all the same deep down, and the stories are a wonderful way to teach everyone—not just Native people. Having to seek out information about my culture on my own turned me into a historian and teacher. It’s important to me that anyone who sees my artwork recognizes it as Coast Salish.
CW: When did you start painting on shoes?
PS: After I won two art contests in 2011, I decided to paint a pair of shoes for myself. People started to take notice, and right away the orders started coming in. At the time, I was still attending college and became super-busy filling orders. Since then, I have learned to paint on high heels and boots, as well as hand drums, canvases, fitted hats, cedar hats and sunglasses.
CW: What can people expect at the art opening?
PS: The opening will feature a variety of my canvas paintings, a selection of painted shoes as well as some signed prints. The fashion show will consist of clothing hand-appliquéd with Coast Salish designs by Coast Salish Creations’ owner SiLowLeetSa (aka Doralee Sanchez).
CW: What do you hope to accomplish with your art in the future?
PS: It is critical that I continue doing what I am already doing—teaching through art—and inspiring others to find their passion. Of course, I want to continue to make people laugh and help heal and uplift the community.
CW: What are you hoping people come away with after viewing your work?
PS: When people leave my show, I want them to walk away with a smile on their face, laughter in their hearts and a true appreciation for indigenous arts and the stories of the Coast Salish people.
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