If you’ve read some of my Saturday Morning Stories, you know I’m very sports focused. So, I was glad to learn Phil Alain is a former hockey player who I could talk hockey with.
Despite his love of hockey, Phil spends a lot of his time promoting art; not just his either. He is often promoting others’ art or finding ways to include other artists in large projects. He is well-known for his St. Albert-based annual event called Night of Artists, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2022, and for being one of the artist partners behind Mural Mosaic.
We chatted about that and many other things related to art, event planning, and a potpourri of topics. I hope you enjoy our conversation and learning about him.
[Featured Artwork by Phil Alain.]
The following responses are lightly edited for length and clarity.
01. Rock, paper, or scissors?
02. What are three interesting facts about you?
A. I can talk backwards and am super fun at parties because of that.
B. I’ve broken my jaw three times and almost every other bone in my body at least once.
C. I used to be a food glutton. I successfully ate the legendary moose omelette at Moose McGillicuddy’s in Honolulu and one time ate 130 battered shrimp at Bonanza
03. Is art your career or a hobby? Something else?
If you define it as “art,” I wouldn’t say that my own art is my career but “the arts” is my career. I would love it if my visual art was my career but I kind of got sidetracked by promoting other artists’ work. *laughs*
04. Night of Artists is what many people know you for. You’ve been the organizer for over 25 years. How did it start and what has sustained it through the years?
It all started basically because I was playing college hockey, of all things. I had a bizarre experience playing hockey in northern Alberta where I was playing senior hockey at the age of 25. I was just there for fun, but it was a pretty serious league. While I was playing there, I had the best hockey year of my life. It was all a fluke, I say, but whatever it was it was an amazing experience for me where the team I was playing for won the championship and I won the MVP of the playoffs. Because of that, I got a hockey scholarship at the age of 25, which I thought was really bizarre.
So, I got a scholarship to Grande Prairie College. I went to play hockey and I decided to take Fine Arts again, which I had been taking at the U of A (University of Alberta) four years earlier. Right away, I blew my knee out playing hockey at college so I had to primarily focus on my art career, which meant taking my art classes.
But while I was taking my art classes, a gallery in Grande Prairie asked me to show my work. That was my first-ever gallery showing, but the only people I knew in Grande Prairie were the guys I played hockey with. They were the only people I was able to invite to come to the show. None of them had ever been to a gallery showing. They didn’t know what to do. They were so uncomfortable coming, but I invited them anyways and they asked me if there would be any drinks and I said, “Yeah, there’ll be some drinks there.” They all came and they quite enjoyed it but they didn’t stay very long because they just didn’t know what to do in a gallery setting.
It was at that point that I thought I wanted to try to take the intimidation factor out of the gallery settings so that people don’t feel uncomfortable going into galleries. I decided to create my own type of art show where it was artwork on display with live music, food, drinks, even dancing. In 1997, I did a show by myself with all my artwork on display and 150 of my closest friends and that’s basically how Night of Artists started… and I sold more artwork than I’ve ever sold in my life.
05. What is the main medium you use in your art?
I would say that I started off working in charcoal and I did charcoal for most of my life. It was really in my older years, the last 15 years or so, that I’ve turned to acrylic. But charcoal was my main medium for more than two decades.
06. Where did your passion for art start?
Getting back to my sports background again, I played football and when I was about 12 I started drawing football players. When I started drawing football players everybody in my class in junior high was just loving what I was drawing.
And then I won a contest that ended up putting my artwork on the full front page of the Edmonton Journal and I kind of became a school hero for a week because, back then when newspapers really existed, it was a pretty big deal to wake up and see your artwork on the entire front page of the newspaper.
From that point onwards, I just kept doing the artwork and entering contests. And I was winning contests quite regularly. I don’t know if nobody else was entering or what was going on but I was definitely fortunate that way and then my passion just grew.
07. What is your go-to band or artist?
My music taste is so diverse. I guess the last few years Ed Sheeran has been my go-to.
08. What song or artist do you like but rarely admit to liking?
Do I feel guilty about telling anyone what I like? *laughs*
I don’t know. Probably Gordon Lightfoot. My kids hate him so I have to listen in secret.
09. What’s your favorite color?
Blue. *laughs* No, wait, that’s not true. Let me think this through.
I paint with a lot of warm colors, so I should say red because I do paint with a lot of red; so I’ll say that’s my favorite painting color.
10. What is one common misconception about being an artist?
I think a lot of times people act like artists don’t have any business sense or that they have a “live off the system” personality. For my own visual art, I’ve never applied for a grant, I just do it on my own.
I like it as a business. I think a lot of artists are very savvy with the business aspect of art. I think a lot of people don’t understand that a lot of artists are very good businesspeople as well.
11. What household chore do you actually enjoy?
Vacuuming. I like vacuuming and I like laundry too. I don’t like putting the clothes away but I do like washing them and folding them.
12. What inspires your art?
People. Definitely people. Everything I do with my artwork relates to people. There’s something about the human emotion and I like to tell a story with my art. If possible, it has to have something that the viewer can relate to. But pretty much every piece I’ve ever done — 95% of them — always involve a human figure of some sort, whether it’s realistic or impressionistic.
13. What app do you use most often?
I guess texting is not an app. I would have to say probably Facebook.
14. Creating the art is one thing, but finding clients is another. Have you cracked the business side of art?
Yeah, the business side of art is a thing. It’s a challenging thing. You have to really understand marketing, you have to understand pricing, how to get your work out there. There’s a lot of incredibly hard legwork just to find shows and opportunities and knowing your market.
Some artists will say, “If you worry about your market then now you’re not focusing on your art as the art piece.” I completely disagree with that. You can still be painting everything you love and then realize that it appeals to a particular market and so you want to show it to that market. It doesn’t mean you’re painting for that market. It means you’re painting what you love, but now you know where your market is.
I think that that is where there is another misconception among artists: If you’re making money off your art, then you’re no longer an artist, you’re a commercial artist. But any artist that is making money on their own is just a good marketer. They don’t need to rely on a government or a gallery to market their work. Some artists are fortunate they don’t have to do that but, to me, it doesn’t make them better artists if they’ve had that break where they’ve got a gigantic grant or a gallery that represents them. It doesn’t mean they’re better, it just means they’ve got a foot in the door.
15. What is your favorite drink?
Wine. If I don’t know what I want, I’ll get a Malbec, a Luigi Bosca.
16. Are you more productive at night or in the morning?
Definitely morning. I’m up at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. I get all my work done before three in the afternoon because that’s when I start to fade.
17. What’s something you’ve been meaning to try but just haven’t got around to?
That’s one of the big questions I’ve been asking myself lately and I don’t even know the answer because I’ve lived a life where I’ve done everything I’ve wanted to and then some.
I guess I’ve always wanted to be brave enough to create an outdoor festival. I’m just not into fighting against mother nature, but it’s something that I’ve thought I’d like to try because if you get a perfect night it’s the most beautiful thing. I think that’s the one thing I would put in my back pocket that maybe I’ll try some day.
18. What are you hilariously bad at?
I’m hilariously bad at taking on more than I should. I need to learn how to say no. I’m really good at saying yes, I’m hilariously bad at saying no.
19. What do you hope people get out of your art?
Emotion. If they can relate to it in some way where they can feel that moment or relate to it in something they’ve experienced or laugh or feel love or feel whatever. Any emotional connection to my art piece is a success for me.