Phil Linder: My Journey to Painting

Hi, I’m Philip Linder, and I want to share my journey of becoming a painter with you. Growing up, I never considered myself an artistic person. I thought of art as just a pastime for people with too much leisure. Instead, I was an athlete and an academic achiever. I never gave art a second thought until high school when I was that overachieving kid who wanted to be the President someday.

My life has never followed a straight path. I attended West Point after high school, but I hated it and left after two years. I then went to a regular college and enrolled in ROTC because I wanted to serve in the Army. I finally got my chance to fly Blackhawk helicopters, which was always a dream of mine. I then worked in politics and moved to DC to attend graduate school, still holding onto my childhood dream of becoming the President.

Living in DC was exciting, but I always felt like something was missing. I wanted a real calling, a purpose in life. I believed that the military was a profession you could believe in, not just a job, but a calling. However, I was searching externally for something that I could only find internally.

I didn’t know where to start looking for my purpose, but I knew I needed to find it. One day, while walking around in a suit on the US Capitol grounds, I realized that I had to leave politics to find what was missing. I got a job at a tech startup, which I loved. I enjoyed creating something, and it was a step in the right direction. I worked there for several years, but then my life became complicated. My relationship ended at the same time as the pandemic hit, and I started searching for my purpose once again. Instead of searching externally, I looked inward. I asked myself who I was, what I stood for, what motivated me, and what I wanted to achieve beyond status and money.

I started with a sketchbook and began drawing. Then I started collaging by combining photos and drawing together. Each step brought me closer to what I was searching for. Eventually, I found my way to the canvas, and painting overtook my life. I painted after work and on weekends. I set up a small studio in the hallway of my apartment in DC. It was a mess, but it was what I had to do. I was drawn to abstract expressionists like De Kooning, Pollack, Frankenthaler, and Diebenkorn, and I worked to emulate them.

At first, I kept my passion for painting to myself because I didn’t know how to explain it to people who knew me. I worried about what people would think, that I sucked, that I had no formal training, and that it was just a distraction from my day job. I didn’t know how to incorporate it into my identity because I was a military tech guy, not an artist. However, the more I pursued it, the more people started taking interest, and my confidence grew.

I started taking the craft more seriously and enrolled in courses whenever I could find the time. I attended two-week painting workshops at the New York Studio School, workshops at the Washington Studio School and Scottsdale Studio School in Arizona, and live drawing sessions. I also visited as many museums in DC and NYC as I could. I learned that technique and skill are just as important as inspiration and subject, and that the craft of painting is a lifelong calling that will continually challenge me.

This past year has been full of milestones for me. I got my first real studio at the Jackson Art Center in DC and my first gallery show at the Arts Club of Washington. As time goes by, my confidence continues to grow.

If you would have told me five years ago this would be my life, I would have laughed. I couldn’t have predicted this. But the power of opening yourself up to Fate is mysterious. You’ll find yourself in places that you would have never dreamed of. And that’s a good thing. 

I think we often pursue things for reasons that we don’t fully understand. So much of our behavior and motivation come from our unconscious. And it was only when I started communicating with my own unconscious mind that things started happening for me. 

Much of my work is an expression of the unconscious forces in our lives. The complexity of the human mind and soul. It’s a fascinating subject for me to explore. 

Before I discovered painting, I read a lot of books and watched a lot of videos about “pursuing your passion.” It’s such an overused term these days. And I remember thinking at the time, well what if I don’t know what I’m passionate about? If I don’t even know what my passion is, I don’t know where to start. 

For me, the passion didn’t emerge until I started to face myself. And there were parts of myself that I didn’t really like, that were quite ugly. But the more I talked with myself, the more my understanding grew. I learned how to communicate with my unconscious, the good parts and the bad. And through that process, I was transformed. Not overnight, but over time, step by step. Bit by bit. 

 I know there’s a lot of you that feel like you’re destined for something, but just haven’t found it yet. There’s also a lot of you that have become disillusioned with whatever you were doing. 

 My advice is simple: stop looking outward, and start looking inward. All the answers are within you. You just need to be brave enough to go look for them. 

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