the insider: richard phillips

“it was one of the most amazing experiences on a dance floor that i’ve ever had.”

by faran krentcil

Some contemporary artists prefer to skirt the limelight, but Richard Phillips has a different approach. The New York City painter's had almost as much screen time as Aleksandr Petrovsky, thanks to appearances on Work of Art and Gossip Girl. (His painting of the oversexed army vixen still hangs in Serena's apartment.) See Richard Phillips' "New Hollywood" Series here. Meanwhile, Phillips is also busy behind the camera, thanks to a series of short art movies starring Lindsay Lohan, and created with surf film pioneer Taylor Steele. Watch the first Richard Phillips x Lindsay Lohan collaboration here. His second debuts this month at Art Basel. Until then, we've got an interview with Phillips, plus some exclusive stills from his newest Lohan-infused project...

We like to start at the beginning. When did you decide to be an artist? I always had a knack for drawing early on, and it was honestly my grandfather who encouraged it. Not to get too sentimental, but he always checked in on me and asked to see my drawings. My grandparents were all "Sunday Painters," so whenever I visited, I saw their latest efforts of still life portraits or landscape paintings. So there was a general sense of artistic endeavor around. My own drawing, I pursued all the way through school. It started as a way to entertain my friends.

Like, they say "Draw this!" and they watch while you do it. Exactly! Then I'd let my imagination go way out there, and make the craziest drawings in study hall, so nobody would get bored.

You moved to New York in the '80s. Obviously, we need to know everything. I started coming down in '82 from Boston, and the East Village as we know it has nothing to do with the way it was. Without being "I'll tell you how it was back then," and sounding like a crazy old man, I will say that downtown New York was lawless, and it was wild. I had some crazy times.

Please tell us about Danceteria. Oh, I did go to Danceteria! I remember being here when Bowie's "Let's Dance" came out, and they played it at Danceteria. It was the most amazing experiences on a dance floor I think I've ever had. It was completely wild.

Thank you. Now we can fast forward to your latest work. Did you call Lindsay Lohan and say, "Hey, LiLo, I have an idea!" The movie was our idea, together! For the first one, we only had one day to work together. It was so productive and so much fun that we both agreed - with my co-director Taylor Steele - we should definitely continue to work together. Our schedules worked out in August, and we met up in LA and got a location sorted out and commenced.

But how did it start? Did you send her a note, saying, "Dear Lindsay, I am a famous artist and you should work with me." [Laughter.] I couldn't tell Lindsay Lohan I was [famous], I mean our fame levels relatively... honestly. It's a whole other world. What happened was, I was in the midst of making a White Cube [gallery] exhibition in London with a number of her acting peers in it. I was asked to do a painting for 2x2 in Dallas for AmFar and the Dallas Museum of Fine Art. I was interested in Lindsay [as a portrait subject], but she didn't fit in the London show. So I made a painting of her for 2x2, and a friend - the film's creative director, Dominic Sidhu - was with Lindsay in LA. He had the image of my painting on his iPhone. She said, "Wow that's great, who made that?" And Dominic told Lindsay, "You guys should work together on a painting." So we were put in touch, and we started texting. Then [curator] Neville Wakefield asked if I'd make a short film for him... I'd never even made an iPhone movie! No art school movies, nothing. But I said yes, and I thought, "Well, maybe Lindsay will be in it." I texted her and she agreed.

This film has a lot of surfing in it. How did Lindsay do on the waves? She was fantastic, because she's surfed a few times before. But then we had [pro surfer and artist] Kassia Meador on set as Lindsay's body double. Having both of them together was just amazing. They became fast friends, and I think anybody would be inspired to be in the water with Kassia because she has such a great vibe.

So anytime we see surfing, it's Kassia? No, a lot of it is Lindsay. She paddled right out there. She's very athletic and got super into it.

And how's your surfing? It's good! I've been surfing for about 12 years. But my co-director, Taylor Steele, is one the most famous surf filmographers of all time - we met because I was one of the judges of the New York Surf Film Festival! So when I had no idea how to make a film, I said, "Taylor, would you be interested in collaborating with me and Lindsay Lohan in Malibu?" That's hard to turn down. What will this movie be like?We added this kind of noir, nighttime component to the film, which is about 50% of the movie. So that takes the idealism of surf culture in a dark place.

Lindsay is wearing Cynthia Rowley for Roxy wetsuits in the movie, isn't she? Yes, Cynthia gave us her brand new line, and I think there's some iconic imagery in the movie because of it. I don't know who would wear the suits better than Lindsay, honestly. She's a knockout.

You seem very focused. Do you ever get the painting equivalent of Writer's Block? That's a very interesting question. What happened with making film, what I realized is, the demands of making film from storyboard to conception to filming - all the post production and color mastering and soundtrack - getting all these elements together was very demanding. It made the balance between that work and painting quite intense. So it's not so much Painter's Block, but it's about maintaining energy levels at the highest possible level and still being healthy.

What's your spirit animal? Ooh. I made a painting of two squirrels in 2004 called "Similar to Squirrels." I like that painting a lot. I think there's some of my spirit in that picture.

Last question: You're the only two-time returning judge on Work Of Art. Do you think new artists can benefit from being on Reality TV? I do think it's an interesting platform for emerging artists. i dont know if that means there will be high levels of success in the longterm for them, but I think art is changing and expanding so much that any opportunity to address the public about one's art ideas is a good thing. Ultimately, it all depends what you bring to it, whether you're on TV or in the middle of nowhere by yourself. But I think ultimately, it's a good thing.

Richard Phillips premieres 'First Point', presented by Gagosian Gallery at Art Unlimited, the curated part of Art Basel, June 11th.

Lohan on-set in a Cynthia Rowley x Roxy wetsuit.

Richard Phillips and Lindsay Lohan.

Kassia Meador on-set.

Kassia and Lindsay in training.