Creator to Creator: Philip Ocampo

From carved knives to molded ceramic bone, I am always filled with questions whenever I encounter Philip’s work. He plays within the intersection of shape, form, material, and arrangement, stirring a physical response and enacting his interest for “the allure of the unknown”. You can also see his attention to the intersection in his curatorial work, including his recent exhibition The Bald Eagle’s Claw, and how the allure seeps into the spaces he create. After talking to Philip about the idea behind the exhibition, I realized the allure emerges from an intimate place and the desire to comprehend the limitless unknown. And that exploration of the unknown we all have no answers to is what constantly draws me into Philip’s work with fascination.

Check out Philip’s interview below as he shares about his engagement with his artistic materials, his approaches to curation, and a series of phrases that he’s been thinking a lot about lately; plus his “favourite” queer video artist!✨ – Mirae.


Mirae: Tell us briefly about your creative practice. When did visual art become a way of expression for you?

Philip: The “intangible” is an easy way to loosely tie the ideas I’m into exploring in my curatorial and studio practice. It can be defined as “unable to be touched or grasped; not having physical presence” and in the context of me, it applies to so much:

  • Myths, folklore, world-building, legends
  • Phenomena (natural, supernatural, human? ex. deja vu)
  • Collective experiences: love, fear, other emotions and sensations
  • Ancestry, lineage, history
  • Magic, pseudoscience, divination

(There’s much more)

I seriously underperformed in all levels of schooling prior to university. I left secondary school feeling pretty aimless. I went to OCAD U on a whim because I demonstrated no aptitude in any other fields of study. But I realized, being there, that I was brighter than I thought, and began to see the value in honouring both my interests and experiences through developing a creative practice.

Visual art in general became a meaningful way to engage with things that were relevant and immediate to me, through seeing, facilitating, and making beautiful things.

From tarot symbols to astrological signs, many of your work alludes to divination, mysticism, and the extraordinary. They are explored through a variety of materials, including clay, charcoal, and found objects. What influences the subjects you make art about and the materials you work with?

In terms of the materials in what I’ve made so far: I like combining clay/stone and found objects in sculptures because they sit at two ends of a spectrum. The process of sculpting sculpting allows me to fabricate objects that come from the aether (nothing), while assembling found objects is a grounded practice that has me searching for the appropriate things as they readily exist IRL.

But more generally speaking, I’ll use whatever materials/processes are appropriate in executing an idea, and since the scope of what I explore is pretty broad, the visual language and processes necessary in creating work can be inconsistent at times. Writing submissions and applications can be challenging for me because the support materials don’t always speak to the work I’m proposing. Clay and found objects are great, but aren’t that useful if I’m proposing video work (which is something I’m interested in getting into!)

“Profile Knives” from Shapeshifter, Paralysis, The Pursuit of Vengeance (2017)

Much of your work, such as Shapeshifter, Paralysis, The Pursuit of Vengeance (2017), is also about the arrangement of the objects (shapes, forms, materials) in a space. What role does installation play in your practice?

For selection committees, the “why” is such an important factor in terms of selecting successful applicants for arts opportunities. Why are you submitting this specific project to this specific space? Site specificity in projects allows the work to be in conversation with the platform in which it is being shown, and creating that dialogue can only mean more engaging, experimental, and interesting projects. It’ll make a stronger case for why your application should be selected.

My curatorial practice feeds into my ongoing interest in immersive installation (an intuitive approach to considering how objects exist in a space) and I’m looking forward to seeing how I can take it further in my studio practice. I’ve only ever been able to dabble in it so I daydream about having the space, time, and the opportunity to do some really ambitious and fun!

The Bald Eagle’s Claw (2019)

After attending the recent exhibition you curated, The Bald Eagle’s Claw at Xpace, I became very curious about your curatorial practice, especially in relation to your artistic practice. How do they intersect? How would you define your curatorial practice?

Thank you for coming :^) It was so nice to see you there!

Curating was something that I paid no attention to until my misinformed understanding of it led me to believe that going into that field was less precarious than being a practicing artist (which is definitely not true), which is what I had been doing prior.

The role of the curator isn’t any less secure than the role of the artist, and lately I’ve begun to question what really separates the two. These days it’s been helpful to think of curating as a medium to execute ideas rather than a role, just like sculpture, drawing, paint, etc. Only curating is a much more relational and collaborative process!

Organizing Bald Eagle was great because there was meaningful exchange between myself and the artists throughout the process of the show’s development. The idea for the show allowed for the participants to respond through the lens of what they explore in their individual studio practices, and their responses helped the show grow, narrowing the scope of what the exhibition was exploring. Though the general theme was of my own inception, we left the experience with an exhibition that felt like it was ours, which I’m very grateful for.

What memorable responses have you received about your work, and have they changed the way you think about making art?

I recognize that my approach to curating and making art is intuitive and very personal, and some common feedback I receive is that the projects could benefit from more of a research focused approach, to which I agree. Research can only further help me expand on my ideas and broaden the scope of the conversations I’m having, so why not? That response is something that has me thinking differently about what I’m currently doing in my creative practices.

What are some questions of themes you have been pondering lately?

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a series of tags that I’ve been seeing around the city for years now. They always begin with “Oh Mei” and finish with phrases like “put your arms around me“, “please come home“, or “let’s get married“, as if the writer is pleading and trying to get through to someone. It’s heartbreaking but also romantic, and seeing these phrases in public spaces, for me, speaks to the quiet, intimate moments that can get lost in such a busy city like Toronto. I’ve recently discovered that the tag references Slide by The Goo Goo Dolls, but for me the magic remains. It makes me think about how grand acts of longing and love can be artistic gestures, and I’m curious to see how that can be further explored in an art context.

What’s coming up next in your creative career?

I’m looking to focus on my studio practice again! Coordinating programs for Xpace Cultural Centre and other curatorial projects accesses a different sector of my creative headspace in a way that I love, but it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to make work as an artist. That being said, I’m looking to make work leisurely without the time sensitivity and stress that comes with professional commitments, which is tricky because Toronto as a city has this busy, over productive nature that encourages non-stop work!

But more immediately is the exhibition that Sophia Oppel and I are co-curating as part of InterAccess’ IA Current program! Opening early November 2019  ᕕ( ᐛ )ᕗ

Lastly, what does being a part of the Canadian art scene mean to you?

Though artists in this expensive, dense, and overwhelming city operate within a scarcity mentality and a fear of being forgotten, being a part of this community means recognizing the precarity in everyone’s efforts as creators and cultural workers, and finding solidarity in that common struggle. Choose community over competition, share space, hospitality, and knowledge, and support each other in our professional and personal endeavours!



Learn more about Richard’s work here. And view Philip’s portfolio here.

New Creator to Creator feature every other Thursday!