Inside his comfortable but respectably spartan two-car garage studio space, Tacoma, Washington artist Phil Roach practices an unexpected alchemy. Secondhand luggage becomes baggage holding memory, fear, and voyeuristic longings. A trite thrift store flower painting opens into bereft worlds occupied by bones and surreal dreams. While a non-descript plywood box holds the bowels of a New York sub-way.

Roach inserts peepholes, physical occuli, which act as entry points for the mind’s eye. As he puts it, “My work relies on the experiences that others bring to it. Our ability to create narratives when presented with an object or scene with little to no information goes beyond our own experience, going deeper into our subconscious and evolutionary past.”

Though seven years have passed since I first encountered Roach’s work, I still vividly recall the moment I peered into one of his miniature creations. I noticed a small, round device, which acted as an invitation to press my eye against a modestly sized black box (one of three) hanging at eye level in a sprawling group show. I was suddenly projected into a Hopper-esque room, vacant, nostalgic, and dislocating.

The moment I placed my eye against the peephole’s cold brass frame, I crossed a threshold into a space I was invited to enter but in which I didn’t feel I belonged. Roach’s art examines our contemporary culture’s infatuation with voyeurism. As stated in a recent exhibition statement, Roach’s work contends with “our perceptions of physical and personal space” and the “instinctual and recently exploited desires for voyeurism, as demonstrated by the popularity of ‘reality’ television shows,” creating “situations that place the viewer in positions that question and compromise our perception of reality.”

Check out an upcoming exhibit at Skagit Valley College.


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