My visions are my creative medium.


Ideas are my medium. I nurture and channel what captivates me. The scale of my work has to do with my capacity to explore. If the subject is complex, one watercolor, one painting, one theatre production, one film, is never enough. Work in a certain medium leads to an expression in different media, or within the same medium, thus heightening the exploration. Sometimes the expression of these ideas overlaps, and I enjoy crossing boundaries.

I want my work to be metaphysical in the sense that it encompasses spirit, body and mind. I paint and write about how human beings respond to this earth, encompassing both heaven and hell. The artists Rubens and Schiele are exemplars of this. The space between their perceptions illustrates the creative landscape where I explore. Rubens is full of unredeemed pearly white flesh and the elevation of this world. Schiele inhabits a daunting, dark and tortured hell of his own imagination. It is divergences such as these that shape my path.

What is real to me is not always what is concrete and immediate. My consciousness unveils images and patterns of behavior; while my memories and dreams provide me with maps of my subconscious, they reveal that I have lived many times before this life, and will do so again. In these recollections, which I impart to canvas and paper, I find myself traversing many realities. And in my expanding quest, I encounter a kind of love that lies beyond desire, a love of knowing and understanding of the past, the present and possibly the future.

Such experiences don't always invite exposure. Some recollected moments are intimately personal, others are dislocated and violent, still others are joyous and poetic. But I share them all through my work, for the sake of what I consider to be an ongoing meditation on what is real.

If studied chronologically, my work unfolds the various stages in discovering myself by way of what I call "ransoming" identities. That is to say, my work is a record of my evolving persona.

Most of my paintings were inspired and conceived in the areas where I have lived: Egypt, Antwerp, Italy, Judaea and New York City.


Working across various mediums - painting, film, theater and poetry - John Ransom Phillips lives and works in New York but has spent significant periods of time in Europe and Egypt. While continuing his painting and creative writing, he completed his BFA at the San Francisco Art Institute and Ph.D. at the University of Chicago.

Having studied with Richard Diebenkorn, Phillips expands on his teacher’s love of light, particularly the blue light of southern California. With this use of color and love of paint, Phillips engages history, both narrative and psychological. His ethos is evident in the choice of subjects; the meaning of “Narcissus” in today’s world; the photographer Mathew Brady, who rearranged his subjects in the name of a higher truth; the Renaissance painter Pinturicchio and the fixation on self. Rather than representing recorded histories, he explores inner lives, dreams, fantasies, and for many, secret wishes and desires.

Phillips’ paintings combine image and text and can be read in the larger legacy of Symbolism. His oil paintings and works on paper have a dream-like quality where forms morph and melt into one another. From his Sleeping Presidents series, beds become wondrous landscapes where dreams become real and where psychological narratives are enacted. Phillips is “devoted to the idea of being connected with something more than simply what you see or what you hear.”

Published works of writings and paintings include Ransoming Time: A Photographer’s Dream Book (Clarissa Editions, 2015), Small Diary of a Little Painter (Clarissa Editions, 2014), Beyond Nature (Clarissa Editions, 2014), Ransoming Mathew Brady (Hudson Hills, 2010), A Contemporary Book of the Dead (Hudson Hills, 2009), Bed as Autobiography (University of Chicago, 2004), and Reformation of Images (University of California, 1984).