Shipley’s paintings tell stories to keep everyone pondering


Phyllis Shipley is proud of her giclee embellished of a red poppy — one of three paintings commissioned for a hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Judy Berman

When Phyllis Shipley creates a painting, she follows a former instructor’s advice to get out of the way and let her inner spirit take control.

“I seldom know what the finished painting will be about. Every painting has a story and, as an artist, I wish to ‘start the read.’ ”

Her paintings include her passion for music, nature and the environment.

Shipley, a native of Johnson City, Tennessee, now lives in Rockledge. Her home is filled with huge paintings that will adorn the walls of private homes, restaurants, hospitals and businesses.

Starting in December, she will have a show at the Amsterdam Whitney Gallery in New York City that will run through Feb. 1. The gallery’s website says it is “showcasing unparalleled artworks from talented artists spanning the U.S. and the globe whose works illuminate the vigorous creativity flourishing in abstract, figurative and natural realms.”

Her studies in art began when her son, Phillip, who was about 12 at that time, came home from school with a painting of a toucan.

“Phillip, that’s really good” she told him. “Would you like to take some art classes at the university (Tennessee State University in Johnson City)?”

“He said, ‘Yes, Mom, if you will.’ ”

That was in the 1970s. Shipley, a church organist, took up a soloist’s invitation to join her in a watercolor class. She loved the medium’s unpredictability.

In 1992, as a full-time artist, Shipley opened a gallery in Johnson City.

Shipley moved to Florida in 2003 after her husband died. A few years later, she met Bud, her partner, who encouraged her to show her art.

“I’ve gotten into figurative abstract. It gives me a sense of freedom. It lets my inner vision come through.”

The influence of her musical background is evident in many of her paintings — now, mostly acrylic and mixed media.

Her music series developed after she moved here. She hadn’t known anyone until she joined singles groups.

“My first music jazz piece, ‘Midnight Jazz Gang,’ is a tribute to all of the friends I’ve made,” Shipley said.

Viewers can almost hear the piano keys, musical notes and instruments found in her art. That mood also is captured in a painting she’s currently doing of Sybil Gage, a singer at Heidi’s in Cocoa Beach.

There are subtle messages in her paintings. In, “Let’s Talk About It,” a majestic snowy egret peers down, at what might be its next meal, and a frog seems to implore the bird to reconsider.

“I like to put interesting visions in my paintings for people to think about. Maybe, they can relate,” Shipley said.

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