We had the good fortune of connecting with Phillip Hua and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Phillip, is there something you can share with us that those outside of the industry might not be aware of?
What people don’t know about the art world is the depth to which the career of an artist is so varied and multifaceted. There are many ways to solve for X, with X equaling the career path that the artist chooses (or discovers) for themselves. It is a true Wild, Wild West. What outsiders probably think of the artist career is to make art, sell it, then get rich (or starve). This is so narrow. The following are archetypes that I’ve noticed but I’m only scratching the surface.
Artist as manufacturer. This artist has found a trademark style or medium and produces multiple variations to capitalize on their brand. They have thrived on successful gallery shows, art fairs, working with art consultants and direct sales to clients. Some might make additional revenue from licensing deals, monetizing their copyright to create an additional passive income stream. They probably enjoy the work that they do, but are somewhat chained artistically because they are so dependent upon production of their signature work that to venture out risks lost income.
Artist as academic. This artist excels in grant writing and applying to fellowships and residencies. They probably attended a prestigious art school or program and their work is conceptually challenging to the broad population. Their work is likely favored by institutions though their sales are intermittent. They might teach or have another job to supplement their income between exhibitions, grants, and residencies. The freedom from art sales allows them to be more adventurous or project based rather than continually producing the same kind of work repeatedly.
Artist as influencer. This artist is wildly popular to the general public and adept at the social media game with thousands of friends, followers, and/or subscribers. They capitalize on the medium with captivating videos or interesting posts, selling their work directly or through capitalizing on their many followers with high quantity, low priced prints or merchandise. Some might even receive pay just to create content and keep eyes on the platform.
Artist as CEO. These are millionaire artists who are at the pinnacle of success. They are highly regarded in the upper echelons of the art world (museum curators, gallerists, the media, etc) and they likely have people who work for them to assist in the creation of their work if not fully creating their work. They have highly watched auction records and the pressures that come with it. These artists are typically heavy on concept and have the expectation to constantly evolve with each exhibition. These are the Damien Hirst’s, the Jeff Koons’s, and the Takashi Murakami’s of the world.
All of these are just broad overviews with lots of variation and interweaving. Some artists are a mixture of two or more of the above. It just really depends on each artist’s strengths, desires, and fortune. The ones that are truly successful have found alignment in the type of work they want to create, the positive reception from their chosen audience, and the financial windfalls that come with it. Easier said than done. And definitely not as simple as the general public would think.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Before San Jose, California became Silicon Valley, there were scores of orchards, fields and creeks. Growing up there, I remember spending a lot of time in those fields, creeks, and untamed areas as a kid. These days, a lot of those places are gone. They’re replaced by residential and commercial developments. Thinking about the loss of these natural spaces for what was gained affected my outlook on the value we place on the environment and the economy. I think oftentimes we think the choice is so simple, but there’s usually a weighing of the two and at some point, the scales tip. For everyone, it’s different. I think about what point that is for myself and others and I explore that in my current work.
I’m always looking for ways to talk about societal concerns in a way that’s indirect. And to this point, I’ve always admired how science fiction is a genre that has always used a rich and imaginative setting to speak about deeper issues in a way that wasn’t threatening. It’s a delicate balance of being clear enough to have the viewer wonder, but not too clear where there’s no other interpretation. Because once you have the answer, will you continue to question?
I’ve been working as an artist for almost 20 years and my art career has only become stable in the past few years. It was rarely easy. There were many times when I’d considered abandoning it. I used to refer to myself as being in a relationship with “Arthur (Art)” and how it was a somewhat abusive relationship. The emotional highs and lows of it made me feel like I was on a rollercoaster of a ride and every time I thought about leaving, he’d pull me back with his promises and his embrace. Eventually we worked out our differences and we’re going to stick it through. Maybe it’s the Taurus in me. We don’t give up!
My advice to young artists is to say yes to everything until you can’t anymore. I took a lot of chances on a variety of opportunities. Not all of them worked out well and I got taken advantage of a few times. But I had to take those chances. It was essential because I didn’t really know where each would lead me and they gave me opportunities to be creative. And the more creativity you release, the more you’ll have.
Another piece of advice is to create opportunities for yourself through working with your communities, wherever those are. This is how I was able to begin one of my current public art projects, Steps to Wisdom, an art tiled stairway that uses a mixture of crowdsourcing of life experiences and crowdfunding to realize it (www.stepstowisdomsf.org). Working with a bunch of neighbors, I designed a stairway that incorporates “Words of Wisdom,” or life lessons learned into tiles so that the visitor can read and self reflect on them before reaching the top, where they’re met with their actual reflection in a set of fully mirrored risers.
And my last piece of advice to artists is to drink lots of water. Because during those times of famine, it’ll keep the hunger at bay and at least your skin will look good.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There are so many things to do in San Francisco. While some of my favorite places have closed due to the pandemic, there’s still a lot of great places that are persevering.
Nari (https://www.narisf.com) – So I absolutely love Thai food. But rather than just send to you my go to’s, if I wanted elevated Thai food with a chic ambiance, I’d come here.
Catharine Clark Gallery (https://cclarkgallery.com) – My favorite gallery in San Francisco. Concept driven and high craft artworks that will make you think.
Aunt Charlie’s Lounge (https://www.auntcharlieslounge.com) – A cozy and funky gay dive bar with drag shows and strong cheap drinks, I have many fond memories of being here and dancing with strangers on their little dance floor.
Suchada Thai Massage (https://www.suchadathaimassage.com) – Relax with a traditional Thai massage. It’s not a legit Thai massage unless they’re walking on your back.
McLaren Park – Almost everyone is familiar with Golden Gate Park. But what most people don’t know about is this hidden gem that’s the second largest park in San Francisco with spectacular views of the city. Still a bit untamed, it’s a great place to have a nice picnic without feeling overcrowded.
Greens – (https://greensrestaurant.com) – A fantastic vegetarian restaurant (and I’m not even vegetarian!)
California Academy of Sciences (https://www.calacademy.org) – Who doesn’t like an aquarium, an exploratorium, and a natural history museum in one? And they’ve got an albino crocodile!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Everything I have, I owe. I owe so much to my family who raised me, my husband who loves me, and my communities who surround and support me. I recognize that I am no one without everyone else. And hey, thank YOU, Shoutout!
Facebook: Phillip Hua
All photos by Phillip Hua except the studio shot by Robin Denevan and the stairs rendering by Andrew Klein