Philip Montelone has always been an artist. "I do not recall a time when I wasn’t drawing or doing something creative." The child of an art teacher and a music teacher, Montelone was steeped in creativity from an early age. Some years later now, he has experimented with a variety of styles and media, coming to rest - for now - in a distinctive style of pen and ink inspired and informed by artists as diverse as master of the Renaissance Leonardo DaVinci and master of horror illustration Bernie Wrightson. His work is fascinating, hilarious, troubling, thought-provoking, and utterly unique, which makes him the perfect candidate for our inaugural Artist Collection, "Philip Montelone".
It is unsurprising, when studying Montelone's work - certainly at his Instagram @philipart, but especially in his horror work at @philiponhorror - to learn that his degree is in Medical Illustration. "Although I don’t do much medical drawings these days, it was an excellent experience that I am grateful for." He continues, "In spite of working on different subject matter, the methodology of image creation coupled with a better understanding of computers and design software played a massive role in how I work today."
Interestingly, certain notes of his now-signature style are discernible even then: even in some of his student work in medical illustration, his use of line and shading and shape is present. Something of the roundness of form and the senses of proportion is present, even from these early days. "I feel like my drawing style itself is somewhat inescapable now. It’s like handwriting," he says.
“I do not recall a time when I wasn’t drawing or doing something creative.”
Montelone's professional career started at the intersection of music and art, at a CD manufacturing company in New York's capital region. A self-described "huge heavy metal fan", Montelone began working on album art, flyers, and other merchandise for some of the very bands he'd long been a fan of - and even led to a spot playing bass with one of the bands he'd done an album cover for. (He also writes, which earns him the coveted triple crown of the artistic world: writing, drawing, and music.)
While his parents were his first influences, Montelone has since been affected by "too many artists to even list". As a student of medical illustration, in addition to the previously-mentioned DaVinci, he was captivated also by DaVinci's contemporary, Albrecht Dürer, whose studies of proportion have since characterized realistic depictions of the human form.
Realism was not his only inspiration, though: surrealists like Dali and Magritte influenced Montelone's works, as well, and it's this balance of the real and unreal that characterizes Montelone's work to this day. He cites many contemporary illustrators as influences, as well, and their influence is not hard to see: the gonzo ink splatters of Ralph Steadman, the murky exploration of the human form found in Marshall Arisman, Stephen Gammell's bleak and largely monochrome vision of the world, the half-adorable, half-disturbing work of Dr Seuss, and the arresting horror and detail and insight of one of the greats of the genre, Bernie Wrightson.
Drawing on his education and training as a medical illustration student, Montelone often uses calculatedly inaccurate human forms to create distorted or supernormal human figures. The result is art like the body horror t-shirt "Many Eyes", as well as the more overtly political t-shirt "Tribalism", with its nearly Seussian politician twisting itself into proverbial knots with its hypocracy. Like a e e cummings with poetry, or Trent Reznor with music, Montelone subverts the normal to create the supernormal. "It's fun to know the rules and then break them," he says, "Like the supernatural versus the natural, the results can be unsettling."
“Sometimes when you just hear something, you have to sit down and let the anger out and I do it with a pen.”
The body of work this produces is one grounded in reality, but hardly beholden to it. Without a grounding in anatomy, "Angel Escape" wouldn't be beautiful; without a healthy dose of the unreal, it wouldn't be disturbing. Though his pieces are not necessarily overtly or calculatedly political, much of his work has an element of social commentary. "The political work I have done falls totally in the catharsis category," says Montelone. "Sometimes when you just hear something, you have to sit down and let the anger out and I do it with a pen." This produces works like "Sophisticated", about which Montelone muses, "I grew up next to a historical racetrack. Hordes drive into towns in nice cars, men wear nice suits, women wear summer dresses and big goofy hats, money flies around, and far too many horses' lives conclude out there on the mud or on the turf."
While he works primarily in pen and ink, he does work in other media, and certainly uses digital tools when necessary or desirable. In his professional career, some of his projects are entirely digital. "But whenever the opportunity presents itself to draw something, I seize it," he notes. This is just today, though: as he says, artists go through phases of techniques. "I can’t say for certain that in 10 years I won’t be doing oil paintings or watercolors again."
Whatever media he works in, it's certain that Philip Montelone's work will continue to provide him catharsis, and provide us content for contemplation. His unique perspective on the world around us, his insight and perception, makes him a welcome addition to the world of art, and to our Artist Collection. As long as there continues to be need for catharsis, Montelone will continue to create: "It’s simply a matter of what is going on in my life that makes me think, 'I have to draw that.'"To see all of Montelone's t-shirt designs for Flying Bacon, make sure to check out his Artist Collection, "Philip Montelone".