Sandwich artist David Phillips puts the final touches on “Notation with Cords and Strings,” a sculpture that will hang in the New England Conservatory of Music’s Jordan Hall.
Detail of “Musica Universalis” by David Phillips
Sandwich artist David Phillips puts the final touches on “Notation with Cords and Strings,” a sculpture that will hang in the New England Conservatory of Music’s Jordan Hall.
Detail of “Musica Universalis” by David Phillips
By the time you read this, three new artworks by Sandwich artist David Phillips will have been installed at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. The works were all conceived by Mr. Phillips in his Grove Street studio with one piece, “Bridge,” consisting of a large metal cello bridge, currently being fabricated in Rhode Island. The other two pieces, “Notation with Chords and String” and “Musica Universalis” were still in Mr. Phillips’s studio when I visited.
The three pieces are coming to fruition through the generosity of the late Tony Lopes of Brookline, who reached out to Mr. Phillips in 2011, offering to finance several pieces of public art.
An accomplished and award-winning sculptor, Mr. Phillips’s work can be seen in many outdoor locations including Eastport Park in Boston, Quincy Square Park in Cambridge, Battery Park in New York, City Square Park in Charlestown and the University of Southern Maine in Portland. In Boston, Mr. Phillips may be best known for his bronze sculptures of anthropomorphic frogs that sit alongside the frog pond in Boston Common.
Mr. Lopes taught elementary school art in the Framingham School District for more than 30 years.
“He was a popular teacher and also did his own artwork, woodblock prints, paintings and drawings,” Mr. Phillips said. “When he retired, he loved going to concerts and hearing orchestras, mostly classical, and he would also just walk around Boston, looking at public art. He happened to see some of my art, and so I got a call from him saying that he liked my work and ‘Let’s have a drink sometime.’”
Having never met Mr. Lopes prior to that phone call, Mr. Phillips said he was a bit skeptical but Mr. Lopes was persistent in calling back and, finally, the two men got together. “He basically announced that he liked my work and wanted to give me some money to do some sculpture of my choice in the City of Boston,” Mr. Phillips said.
The three new works are the fifth, sixth and seventh pieces to come out of this arrangement.
“What a windfall,” Mr. Phillips said of Mr. Lopes’s offer. “Nothing like that had ever happened to me before.”
Mr. Phillips said Mr. Lopes was curious, but ultimately “he let me do whatever I wanted.”
The first piece, installed in 2013, was titled “Dancing With Spheres” and consists of a bronze statue that features a dog and cat “dancing” atop a stylized tree with other animals, including a crow, squirrel, hare, frog and turtle, surrounding them on the platform below. It is located in the outside dog run at the Animal Rescue League in Boston.
“We both love animals, and I found out that Tony got his cats from the Animal Rescue League,” Mr. Phillips said. “It’s a fun piece.”
Sadly, Mr. Lopes died of cancer not long after the unveiling of “Dancing With Spheres,” but the conservator of his estate contacted Mr. Phillips to let him know that Mr. Lopes had left money for other art.
Mr. Phillips said he approached the New England Conservatory of Music, knowing that Mr. Lopes had gone there to see performances.
The three new sculptures by Mr. Phillips will all be placed at the conservatory: two indoors on the second floor of Jordan Hall and one outside in a small park off St. Botolph Street. The new pieces will join “Scrolls,” “Tony’s Bench” and “High Notes,” which were all installed at the conservatory in 2019, thanks to the generosity of Mr. Lopes.
“Notation With Chords and Strings,” will hang on a wall inside Jordan Hall, the conservatory’s principal performing space. The large rectangular work, which is four feet high by 10 feet in length, features blue and yellow rolled steel and piano strings in circular designs, affixed to a gray panel background. Painted shadows intermingle with actual shadows, giving the piece a feeling of movement and reverberation.
“The idea is completely new to me,” Mr. Phillips said about the work, “The title sounds musical but it’s really a description of the structure that it’s made of: cold rolled steel which is cut and welded together.”
While it may look haphazard, Mr. Phillips explained that the design is actually very organized. “There’s an underlying six-inch grid that you can get a sense of. It’s organized along a lattice of squares,” he said. Mr. Phillips also explained that he was trying to work with a variety of levels with the piece: “It’s something of a painting on three levels, plus it is sculptural. It’s been fun solving the technical problems of the piece, how to build and put it together. It appears delicate but it’s sturdier than it looks.”
With a multitude of lines and shadows, created both by the artist and a direct light source, the viewer’s eye will try and follow the lines, which seem to be vibrating. “People have said that it has a musical quality to it,” Mr. Phillips said.
Mr. Phillips said the piece has taken four months to complete.
Eight feet tall, painted a deep yellow and created from metal arranged in a woven pattern that creates square space between the weft and the warp, “Bridge” will be lit from within when it is placed on St. Botolph Street, where it will be a complementary piece to “Scrolls,” another metal sculpture based on the neck of a violin and lit from within.
The third new piece is a large mobile, which will also be hung in Jordan Hall. It consists of rods and spheres, which are made to pass by close to one another, almost, but not quite touching.
“You get all these crosses and triangles forming, and it turns and it looks like things are going to hit but then they cross over,” Mr. Phillips said.
The artist explained that the idea for the piece came from the notion of the “music of the spheres,” a philosophical concept that dates back to ancient Greece and proposes that the movement of the planets and other celestial bodies was a form of music. “Musica Universalis” translates to universal music.
A professional artist for more than 50 years, Mr. Phillips and his wife moved to Sandwich from Cambridge just before the pandemic.
Despite renting for the month of August in Truro for more than 20 years, Mr. Phillips said he has not made many connections in the Cape Cod art scene. “I never got involved in the galleries when we were coming down. I always had a public art commission going on somewhere,” he said, adding that some years he would take the fast ferry back and forth because he had to be in Boston.
Mr. Phillips was part of the exhibit “All The World’s A Stage” at the Cape Cod Museum of Art earlier this year, but since moving to Sandwich he’s spent the majority of his time refinishing his studio and working on the conservatory pieces.
“COVID didn’t really affect me,” Mr. Phillips said. “I had plenty to do with the house and studio. The floors were just rough wood, and I had to put in some sheet rock.”
A graduate of both the Columbus College of Art and Design and the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Mr. Phillips grew up in Michigan and moved to Boston after he finished graduate school. “I was determined not to get a so-called ‘real job,’” Mr. Phillips said.
Although he’s worked as an adjunct professor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, he said his focus was never on tenure: “I wanted to be an artist, not a teacher. Probably my biggest accomplishment is that I’ve been able to do what I wanted to do.”
Mr. Phillips has worked in stone, granite, bronze, magnets, water elements, LED lighting and more. “I do have a kind of diversity,” the artist said, “but I think my stone work is what I’m most noted for.”
Mr. Phillips said his sculptures are mainly based on what interests him but that he’s influenced by the people or groups that commission the work, the site where the work will be located and the committee overseeing the project. “There’s always some tweaking that goes on,” he said, “I’m not going to just do something that I like. I want to do something that they will also like.”
“Bridge,” “Notation with Chords and Strings,” and “Musica Universalis” represent the last works that Mr. Phillips will be making using the resources left to him by Mr. Lopes.
In regard to the generous commission, Mr. Phillips commented that “it’s the power of working steadily and long and maybe someone sees your work out there. From an artist’s point of view, you just never know.”
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Incredibly well written, researched and thorough article about a genius and a master of his craft as recognized and loved by so many others around this delicate little sphere such as Mr Lopes, also obviously a determined visionary in his own right.
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