Mixed media artist Phil Hansen shared his personal story with SCAD Atlanta students in a presentation at SCADshow Feb. 28, giving advice on overcoming limitations and explaining the origin of the phrase, “Embrace the shake.”
For Hansen, middle school marked the beginning of his interest in art and especially the style of pointillism, a technique of drawing or painting that uses small dots of pigment to create forms. As he went on to study art in college, he continued to focus on pointillism. Unfortunately for Hansen, the technique began causing physical problems.
“What happened was I was spending so much time perfecting dots that it began to take a toll on the nerves in my arm and my hand began to shake,” said Hansen. “So what would happen is I would hold the pen tighter until my arm would fatigue and my hand would shake, and then I’d hold the pen tighter, and my arm would fatigue more — it was this cycle that just progressed.”
Hansen ended up dropping out of art school because he said he no longer believed he could make art due to his tremors. When he finally saw a neurologist about the shaking, the doctor confirmed that there was permanent nerve damage. Though Hansen was disheartened, he said the doctor gave him some advice that changed his entire perspective.
“He was sitting there watching me think about it,” said Hansen. “And he’s like, ‘You know son, your hand shakes. So why don’t you just embrace the shake?’”
The phrase “Embrace the shake” became the foundation upon which Hansen rebuilt his identity and career as an artist. Hansen said he had to question everything he had believed about what art was, what it could be and how to create it despite the tremors in his hand.
“By asking ourselves the right questions, limitations can become a passageway to creativity,” said Hansen, who began experimenting with unconventional materials such as hamburger grease, matches, live worms and vinyl records.
His work has become popular with several YouTube videos of his projects garnering more than a million views, and he was invited to share his story about overcoming limitations at the 2013 TED Conference.
Currently, Hansen is working on creating a new text art project, in which he said he will use words and letters to create shapes. These words will come from volunteers sharing their stories with Hansen, who plans on transcribing the interviews to create a large-format piece.
If you are interested in participating in the project, text the word “art” to 31996.
For more information about Phil Hansen, visit www.philinthecircle.com.