Creating the familiar and unfamiliar

It would be an understatement?to say rural?Newton artist Phil Epp?likes to paint clouds.?Examples of his artwork are?featured on signs throughout?Newton and on the?water tower near Centennial?Park, as well as on the Blue?Sky Sculpture in the same?vicinity. He, Conrad Snider
and Terry Corbett collaborated?on the Blue Sky?Sculpture.
The water tower and Blue?Sky Sculpture have received?high recognition. The water?tower was named by the?Tnemec Co. as the national?2010 Water Tank of the Year,?and The Blue Sky Sculpture?was chosen as one of the?Kansas Sampler Foundation?s Eight Wonders of?Kansas Art in 2008.
More cloud paintings?rested in Epp?s studio in?mid-April, including one of?10 pieces in a series featuring?an arced shape. Another?was a fairly large commissioned?painting, and yet?another painting had light,?puffy clouds contrasting?against a darker sky with?cows grazing below.
These days, when Epp?paints clouds, they are a few?more animated than there?used to be, he said, in contrast?to the signage and?water tower painted clouds?in Newton. His work also is?in the rotunda at the Medical?Office Plaza in the Newton?Medical Center complex.
The rotunda works incorporate various kinds?of Kansas weather, including a tornado, snow?and clouds.
?I still have fun painting those clouds,?though,? he said.
His newer version of clouds, the more animated?ones, are more pronounced than real?clouds, Epp said.
?(They are) sort of a heightened version ??makes them appear more like an icon than a?natural cloud,? he said, sitting in his sunny?studio graced with skylights.
Epp?s next big project is a triptych for?Arrowhead Stadium, the venue used by the?Kansas City Chiefs football?team. A triptych is a piece of
artwork comprised of three?panels. Each of Epp?s panels?for the work will be 6 feet by?13 feet.
?So it will be like a 50-foot span when it?s completed,??he said.
He said each panel barely?will fit in the studio, and the?panels will be made of canvas?constructed by Mark?Andres of rural Newton.
Andres is a farmer and ?quite?an amazing craftsman,? Epp?said. Andres also does work?for Kauffman Museum in?North Newton, Epp said.
The triptych will be a?landscape, and the process?of painting it will be filmed?by the Chiefs NFL production?team. The emphasis for?the art was not to be on?sports, but rather artists?were encouraged to submit?pieces surrounding cultural?and regional themes past the?scope of entertainment and?sports, according to?
?Their art program will be?part of their general education?program,? Epp said.??The Dallas stadium has an?art program within their stadium.?That?s the sort of thing?the Chiefs are doing.?
The Hunt family and the?Chiefs issued a call for artists?to submit work for the?Kansas City Chiefs Art?Program.
?This initiative will support?the celebration of?regional art originally announced by Chiefs?Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt as part of the?club?s plans to celebrate the Chief ?s 50th year?in Kansas City,? the website stated. People go?to Arrowhead Stadium for games, of course,?and to tour the stadium. This will give the?public something to look at besides football.

?It?s just a way of them presenting?themselves as more than?just football,? Epp said.
In order to get this commission,?a ?ton? of artists applied,?Epp said. He was told to construct?a scale model of what he?planned to paint to present in?person.
?They asked me questions?about the process and so on,??Epp said. ?I received a contract?that said, ?We?re ready to go.??
The former USD 373 art?teacher predicted the project will?take from six to nine months to?complete.
A handful of other artists were?selected for the program, which?includes painters and sculptors,?Epp said. The pieces will be?owned by Arrowhead. The deadline?to submit artwork was in?September.
Epp certainly does like art. He?taught art in the Newton school?district for 29 years, retiring 10?years ago.
?My favorite kind of art is?when I don?t know where it?s?going, and I have an idea I think?is unique,? he said. ?And I start?putting the idea on canvas, and it?creates a whole other world that?s?unfamiliar to me and familiar?too.?
That?s what Epp thinks draws?people to art ? that they can create??this place that?s in your?head.?
The Bethel College graduate?doesn’t like to give his work?titles.
?I don?t put a lot of emphasis?on a title,? he said. ?? A title usually?distracts from the imagery of?the painting ? it dictates too?much to the viewer.?
In one of the paintings in his?studio, the large one with the?dynamic, swirly clouds, Epp?included images of trees and?water. Epp usually paints with?acrylic.
?I don?t do water and trees?very often,? Epp said. ?It?s kinda?fun to do something different?every once in a while.?
One of Epp?s recent projects?was a large painting for the?Kansas Star Casino, which used?five panels. This past winter, he?also did some etchings.
Art keeps Epp busy in his?retirement.
?Basically, it gives me something?to do,? he said. ?I see a lot?of fellas my age who don?t know?what to do. It just gives me?a real purpose, I think. It?s?just challenging and sometimes?enjoyable.?
Epp hasn’t kept his?enjoyment of art within?the borders of Kansas. In?2009, he traveled to?Kazakhstan to take part in?programming that?included master classes?and lectures with several?local artists, students,?schools and institutions.
He was an American Artist?Abroad, which was sponsored?by the U.S. Department of State?s Art in?Embassies Program.
While in Kazakhstan, he?visited Almaty, Astana and?Shymkent. After his trip,?he gave some talks locally?about his trip, at such?places as The Carriage?Factory Gallery in Newton?and Newton Public Library.
?I just keep plugging?away, and I?m lucky enough to have some projects?ahead of me,? Epp?said.

Photos and story by?Wendy Nugent

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