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Phil Hansen Challenges Audience Instead of Seize the Day, Seize the Limitation 6/11/18  06/11/18 3:14:39 PM

Phil Hansen is known not only for his dynamic artwork, but for his dynamic presentations as well. Here he gives the CRE Summit audience a lot to think about.

Phil Hansen Challenges Audience
Instead of Seize the Day, Seize the Limitation

By Julien R. Fielding
The Daily Record

Turning your limitations into innovations … that was the topic of internationally known artist, author and innovator Phil Hansen’s keynote address at the CRE Summit on April 6.
“Limitations are the beginnings of our potential creativity,” he said, and he should know. The self-taught artist explained that in middle school, he was introduced to pointillism and quickly became enamored with it. Unfortunately, it takes a very steady hand to achieve the perfectly placed series of dots – think Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte – and doing this took a toll on the nerves in his right hand.
“You have to hold the pen very tightly, and that caused my hand to start shaking,” he said. “It was an issue.” Soon his hand was shaking constantly. “I dropped out of art school and took time away for a few years.” A friend suggested that he visit a neurologist, who told him that he had permanent nerve damage.
But instead of packing in his career in art, Hansen decided to “embrace the shake”, and begin experimenting within the field. “I put paper on the wall and made scribble pictures. I still liked fragmentation, the fragmentation of pointillism, but I had to do it on a larger scale, because my hand wouldn’t work. It increased my creativity.”
But then in graduate school, he hit a dry spell and slipped into a creative slump.
“I was finally able to support myself, but I was paralyzed by all of my choices,” he said. He realized that instead of thinking outside of the box, he needed to get back into it. At that time, Hansen was spending nearly every night at Starbucks, and they would give him an extra cup if he asked. So, one day, he decided to ask for 50 cups. They gave him the cups. Using a pencil, he drew, on them, a picture of a boy. “We need to be limited to be limitless,” he said. “I needed to rethink – how to paint without a brush.”
    For a year, he went on a journey during which he made impermanent art. For instance, he used 7,000 colored matchsticks to make a portrait of Jimi Hendrix. Once he was finished, he set it on fire. During that time, he also used spit out food, sidewalk chalk and frozen wine to create art. At one point, he used votive candles, rearranged them, and blew them out. No physical “painting” exists. The only way to see this work is on video. “It was liberating,” he said. “I was learning to let go of outcomes and failure,” he said. “I was only thinking of what was next. I had a willingness to explore.”
Hansen likes to use unusual materials for creating his art. He’s drawn on a banana, used cocoa to decorate a sugar cookie (Cookies of War), separated bacon (Bacon Trump), smashed records (Bob Marley), worms (500 Earthworms on Canvas), his blood on bandages (Value of Blood), peanut butter and jelly on bread (Virgin Mary), dandelion puffs (Mother Theresa) and more recently, plexiglass, light and shadows. He even created a painting of the Mona Lisa with the grease from McDonald’s hamburgers.  
In addition to Disney, which paid him to “paint” with remote control cars as a promo for one of their animated Cars films, Hansen has been commissioned by the Grammy Awards, Skype, Mazda and the Rockefeller Foundation. He is widely known for his “meta-art,” videos that document his creative process (http://www.philinthecircle.com/vc-refraction). He has been featured on the Discovery Chanel, Good Morning America, the Rachael Ray Show and Last Call with Carson Daly. His story was first shared on the TED stage, and then around the world on PBS, BBC and CCTV.
Why do some people struggle in the face of limitations, while other people accept them?
It’s about perception, he said. Limitations can be seen as something put in our way, or, they can be seen as something we put in our own way. We need to ask ourselves: How much of a challenge is this? “Instead of saying a shaky hand will destroy my career, I thought ‘How can I do art with a shaky hand,’” he said. “Instead of thinking about [limitations] as roadblocks and obstacles, we can consider how to let go of our self-limiting beliefs. We need to look to ourselves.”
Many people make a habit of focusing on what is out of their control, he added, instead of realizing that challenging times give us time to stand out. We also tend to believe that if we have more money, more tools and more people, we can achieve anything. But what if our resources become scarce? We go into a holding pattern.
“Our most valuable resource is us – we are the source of our success. Imagine what you can do if you accept your limitations. Real change comes from inside, and there are solutions to every problem. We need adaptability, resilience, rethinking, reframing and recrafting. Instead of saying seize the day, we should say seize the limitation.”
Hansen delivered his talk from 9:30 to 10:15 a.m. at the Centurylink Center. Besides speaking and creating art, he is an advocate for advancing art education. He’s the author of Tattoo a Banana, a guide to exploring creativity through art with everyday materials. And he’s the founder of Goodbye-Art Academy, providing high quality and free art education videos to teachers and students everywhere.
For his next project, he is asking members of the public to share a story about a death they remember. They are being asked to call (651-321-4996) and leave a voice message. He will then write these stories into his art.
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