Philip C. Curtis

Philip Campbell Curtis is called a surrealist or magic realism painter.  His difficult to categorize, vibrantly colored works leaves the viewer playfully with more questions than answers.  The imaginary scenes he created blend the desert landscape of Arizona with memories of growing up in Victorian era Jackson, Michigan.  Each painting tells a story and invites the viewer to enter an imaginary world where his dreams and his imagination met.


MAY 27 – SEPTEMBER 30, 2023

Philip Campbell Curtis
The Unveiling, 1979
Oil on panel
Gift of the Philip C. Curtis Trust

Selected by Chris Weir, Senior Marketing Specialist

Referred to by some as the “René Magritte of the Old West,” Arizona transplant Philip Campbell Curtis wanted his imagery to be puzzling. Like Magritte, Curtis ventured into the surreal and challenged viewers’ perceptions. Once, when asked whether people in his painting of an elevator were going up or down, he replied, ‘How the hell should I know? For all I know, they could be stuck.’

The Unveiling certainly matches the puzzler profile. I love the absurdity of the enormous sculpture, with a base that promises classical grandeur, situated in an absolutely desolate landscape. The emotions it elicits are similarly paradoxical—anticipation for the big reveal and disappointment over the absence of anyone to witness it. The wind in the hair of the young woman holding the rope suggests to me that she’s undeterred by the lack of audience.

While I’m dying to see the sculpture, the anticlimax keeps me rapt. It also makes me wonder whether Curtis himself knew what was under that sheet…


The Ullman Center Reopening

Phoenix Art Museum reopens The Ullman Center for the Art of Philip C. Curtis on the first floor of the Museum’s North Wing. The reinvigorated gallery opened on October 23, 2021 and is dedicated to featuring the works of Philip C. Curtis, the Arizona-based artist who founded the Phoenix Federal Art Center, the first iteration of Phoenix Art Museum.

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About the Artist


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