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Take a cue from the giant eyeball, and peer deeper into Phil Wassell's imagery

click to enlarge I spy ... with my improbably large eye ... something that - is ... yellow. Can you guess what it is? (Yes, but itd be - more helpful to point out the snake ...)
  • I spy ... with my improbably large eye ... something that is ... yellow. Can you guess what it is? (Yes, but itd be more helpful to point out the snake ...)

Phil Wassell has been creating art "since [he] could hold a pencil," and describes himself as a perfectionist when it comes to what he creates. So it's no surprise that on the eve of his first exhibition, he exudes a sense of anticipation.

Wassell, a Colorado Springs resident in his mid-20s, received a BFA from the Massachusetts College of Art in 2005 and has been building a body of work since he graduated. When Cedars Jazz Club put out a call, he felt he was ready.

About a third of the pieces in Explore Fools Paradise are what Wassell describes as social commentary, while the others are his interpretations of life. But he is reluctant to give meaning to his work, preferring just to "start viewers in a direction" and then let them spend time in his paintings.

"My goal is to draw somebody in with an initial impact or focal point, like fire, or a hand, or an eyeball, just to get them to look at it," he says. "And then I like to reveal more intricacies and detail to make the viewer lose their bearings a little bit."

"In Touch" is a painting of a man staring up at a sunflower, while a dragon-like creature lies curled around his feet. Not only are the colors bold, but the images are intriguing enough to keep the viewer looking, and looking some more, trying to figure out the symbolism behind the giant eyeball. Is there any? Maybe.

Wassell likes fantasy and mystery, both of which play a part in his paintings. While his images are loosely based on real life, Wassell says he likes to put a "thin coat of surrealism over something that already exists."

"Illumination," for instance, is a depiction of a cave wall with an arm holding out a torch so the viewer can see the symbols painted there. The surprise comes when we see the images on the wall are wheels and cogs rather than the typical animals and hunters we expect.

Wassell says this piece, like a lot of his work, is about the process of discovery for the viewer, about "finding our past ... maybe it's not what we expected." In "Illumination," he says, "viewers get to think about whether the scene is of the future or the past."

Wassell's work is exciting and fresh, carrying an air of professionalism with its intricate detail and polished look. "Light is the key ingredient," he explains. "I like creating luminosity in things."

Kerry A. Bennett

Explore Fools Paradise, works by Phil Wassell

The Gallery at Paragon, 3125 Sinton Road

Running through May 26; open Thursday-Saturday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Call 578-5744 for more.

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