Thursday, 26th July 2012 - Teeshirt for the day from the brilliant "366 Teeshirts". via 366teeshirts.co.uk

Thursday, 26th July 2012 – Teeshirt for the day from the brilliant “366 Teeshirts”. via 366teeshirts.co.uk

How long does your art last?

I don’t mean how long will the print or photograph or painting be around, but how much continuous time do you spend within the creative execution of an artwork. Days? Weeks? I know some of my paintings can take months to complete – but still, that’s not continuous time spent with the work. In fact, in many respects, one of the key elements of art practice is learning how not to work – when to step away from a work to marshal creative thoughts and energies.

It’s easy to dismiss Neil Phillips’ 366 Teeshirts as a naive piece of one-hit-wonder art-jam, a kind of wearable cultural heckling. But the truth is that Neil is the only creative person I’ve ever met who has – literally – spent an entire year inside his art. What came across so clearly in last night’s “An Audience with 366 Teeshirts” was the sheer daily weight of this project. Every day, he became part of whatever was printed on his teeshirt, and the consequent conversations and interactions the daily slogan provoked. Courgettes, swans, cupboards, the price of biscuits – Neil’s captured snatches of innocuous household conversations seemed to unlock days of debates about immigration, celebrity culture and local economics.

How many of us provoke this kind of reaction to our paintings and photographs on a daily basis? How many of us live inside the same artwork day in, day out for an entire unbroken year? Neil’s deadpan modesty hides an astonishing commitment – all the more so for unquestionably still living in the real world, complete with family, job and slug-ravaged garden, all of which were woven into the fabric (yes, pun intended) of his art. What’s more, as last night’s event also proved, this was an art project which drew into its interactive orbit all sorts of other creative minds, like film-makers, web designers, musicians, as well as a cross-section of some of Oswestry’s most distinctive local businesses.

I’m completely jealous of Neil and his 366 teeshirts project. This, for me, is what art should be about: something surprising and immersive, something that outlasts the obvious thing you first see, something bigger than itself that is embedded within the real world. Neil shrugged last night at the failure of his project to “go viral” – but it has gone viral. 366 Teeshirts isn’t over just because Neil’s now wearing “ordinary” shirts again; the project is spawning new ideas and new iterations – 366 the album, 366 pants (no, probably not), etc. “That should be on a teeshirt” is now part of the Oswestry creative vernacular – Neil’s original concept has now escaped the confines of his own project and is evolving into… well, who knows?

Now that’s art.

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