Interviews

Published on August 5th, 2020 | by Percy Crawford

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Sheila Phipps: Activism through Artistry

New Orleans artist Sheila Phipps draws inspiration from legal and social injustices.

BET’s No Limit Chronicles serves as a reminder of how powerful Master P’s No Limit Record’s label was at one point in the rap game. He assembled a roster of talented artists, most having New Orleans ties that led the musical industries charge throughout the late 90’s early 2000’s. However, reliving No Limits prime years isn’t as pleasant for, Sheila Phipps, mother of, McKinley “Mac” Phipps. A former No Limit Soldier. “Mac” was one of No Limit’s most lyrical talents and in February of 2000, he was sentenced to 30-years for second-degree murder. A conviction in which his family and friends stands on his innocence. His mother, a decorated artist who has won several awards for her paintings deals with her son’s absence and other injustices in the world by stroking her brush on a canvas.

During my recent conversation with, Mrs. Phipps she opens up about using unjust situations for inspiration, her art being a coping mechanism for her son’s absence and much more.

You share a name with my mother, so you’re already in my good grace.

Sheila Phipps: (Laughing). Well, that’s a good thing. I like the name.

Yes mam. How are you doing?

Sheila Phipps: Everything is good. I’ve been okay and the family has been okay.

Where do you draw your inspiration for your paintings from?

Sheila Phipps: Honestly, I love doing portraits. I’ve been doing portraits since I started painting for a living. I have been doing art for close to 30-years now. These days, what inspires me to paint are the protest and injustices. I do a lot of my paintings to be geared towards injustice. I just finished an abstract portrait of John Lewis yesterday. I painted three ladies, they are nurses and they have their masks on and at the bottom of the portrait, there are protest going on at the same time. I draw my inspiration these days mainly from injustices. I feel like as an artist and part-time activist, my protest comes from my painting. That’s my way of protesting.

John Lewis was a great man. That’s awesome that you put him on a canvas. We are living in some crazy times, so I’m sure it hasn’t been hard to find inspiration.

Sheila Phipps: Yes definitely! I also painted a portrait of [Colin] Kaepernick. I painted him in his uniform kneeling down with the names of the victims of police brutality coming down on the painting. That inspired me because a lot of people… mainly white folks misconstrued or just didn’t want to acknowledge what the man was kneeling for. They all know why he is kneeling. That’s my protest, the paint to show how I feel about situations. I put it on canvas.

How did you start painting? What got you into art?

Sheila Phipps: I have been drawing and painting since I was a child. I started kind of drawing when I was 4 or 5 years old. And by the time I got in school, first grade, my teacher discovered that I knew how to draw. I was just drawing (laughing). I didn’t even know it was a thing. She was the one that noticed it. We had to do an art project and she noticed how good it was. And from there, I started really drawing. By the time I graduated from high school… I got married so young, so I put it to the side to help supplement some of the income. We had six children. I kept having kids, so in order to make ends meet, I put it to the side. But then I started back doing portraits. I kind of taught myself to paint and do different mediums. I was doing a little bit of drawing and painting in school, but to really get involved and deep into it, and especially when you trying to sell your work, you have to make it look good. You gotta teach yourself some of the techniques if you’re not in college and learning all that.

I love when I see someone who found their purpose at a very young age. How important is it for young people to understand that it may not happen overnight, but stick with it because it’s never to early to find your why in life?

Sheila Phipps: For me… my children are all talented also. They are talented in art and in music. So, they were raised in a household of artists. Even my husband is an artist. He doesn’t work as much as I do because he works a regular job, but I met him when he was going to art school. But for kids coming up, I look at art as a gift. As a God-given gift. God gives us the gift to paint and to be musicians and artists. I believe that, when you are blessed with a gift, you should give your gift to the world because God would not bless you with that gift if he didn’t want you to share your talent with other people. Your art can inspire people in a lot of ways. It’s just like the paintings that I do. I know it’s not a big sale, but I just want to inspire people to think. That’s one of the reasons why I paint, and I believe that young people should stick to it because, you can make money today off of art. There’s plenty of ways to get your work out there now. Much better ways then when I was coming up. You got social media… the internet in general. There are ways of making money as an artist. I think if it’s a passion, they should stick to it. Even if they gotta work a side/regular job and continue their craft. The bible says, “A man’s gift makes room for him.”

And your gift of artistry and activism goes hand and hand.

Sheila Phipps: That’s what I’m trying to do. I want to make people think, and art has a way of making people think. You’re putting yourself on that canvas. You’re putting your emotions and your feelings into it. It’s just like with music or any kind of talent that you are involved with. You put yourself in it.

You are the mother of former No Limit Records artist, “Mac.” Obviously, he has been incarcerated for quite some time. Tell us about the, States of Incarceration Exhibit, and what you are doing with that.

Sheila Phipps: I started that because of, “Mac.” After so many years of being denied and appealing and receiving letters of denial, I just didn’t know what else to do, so I decided to paint a portrait of my son. And maybe exhibit it and tell his story. As that came into my mind, I thought, why should I just stop with him? There are so many young… especially African American men who are caught up in situations with the justice system. They are wrongfully in there for crimes they didn’t commit or they received too much time for the crime that they did commit. So, I wanted to not only just showcase him, but I wanted to paint portraits of other inmates, so that’s what got me started with doing that series of portraits. Every person that I did was either incarcerated and one person was exonerated and I was able to go around to different galleries to exhibit the piece and talk about it. Also, the painting of, “Mac” was a part of a traveling exhibit that launched in New York. And that one went nationwide for 5-years. It even went to Paris. So, that was just part of the exhibit. It wasn’t just my work, but it was a collaboration of work from different artists from all over the country. We all came together in New York to launch this. And the project was called, The States of Incarceration. And it was 13-14 cities came together to talk about the incarceration issues in their state. I was part of that. I was the representative along with student from UNO [University of New Orleans] for Louisiana.

I know his situation isn’t getting any easier. How is, “Mac” coping with everything and how are you holding up because he’s been away for a long time now?

Sheila Phipps: I guess… most of the time it’s easy, but there are times like the holidays and his birthday where it gets to be a little harder to deal with. After so many years it’s like… like this year is 20-years, I’m like, “When is this boy going to get out of this situation.” It’s crazy. I have other kids and grandkids and that helps, but at the same time and at the end of the day, you want all your children out. You want all your kids free and living their lives. So, it’s hard to deal with. It’s up and down. I think what helps me is the fact that, when I ask, “Mac” how he’s doing, he always tells me that he is okay. Which, I know he has his good and bad days. He’s not going to tell me about the bad ones. He just worries about me and his daddy being okay. I guess as long as he’s okay, we can deal with that. But it’s not easy at all. It’s been a long time. I listened to some of the ladies who I have featured their sons in my exhibit. They are older ladies too. We haven’t talked in a while, but we used to get together and just share our feelings about the situation of our sons being incarcerated like that. And it’s hard.

What can we expect from you in the near future and let everyone know where your artwork can be purchased?

Sheila Phipps: I have a studio in Arabi. The address is, 7011 Saint Claude Ave. Arabi, La. 70032.  And my website is www.sheilaphipps.com . Right now what I’m doing is putting together this series, and I’m not even sure what I’m going to call it yet. It will be about injustice. I’m putting a series of paintings together that will be centered around that. I want to try and get on one of the local new channels to show the exhibit, so we’re trying to get that together as well. I’m putting things together to have something that I can introduce to the world. That will be my next project. Thank you so much. I appreciate you.

 



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