"I don't see like normal people," Phillip Hyman says. "I see opportunities for artwork everywhere." From alleyways to bars, festivals to galleries, and even the second story of the Read Brothers building on King Street, his eyes are always searching for the next place to make and show art. Hyman's latest focus is Jimbo's Rock Lounge, where he's in the midst of hosting the Eyeball Art Show series on the first and third Thursdays of every month.
A native of Charleston, Hyman started making art in the third grade. His young classmates saved their lunch money so they could buy his portraits. By fifth grade, his teachers were commissioning him to paint the covers of their masters theses.
Nowadays Hyman looks more like a pro wrestler than an artist. With a partly shaved head and long braid of blond hair hanging down his back, the buff 52-year-old is often called "the Machine." Best known for his inventive installation pieces like the 23-foot T-Rex he created for the IMAX theater and the six-foot cake he built for the City Paper's 10-year anniversary issue, Hyman says, "I can't turn it off. I only need four hours of sleep, and sometimes I'll paint three paintings in one night." Hyman's artistic range includes murals, graffiti, house restoration, and stencils. "My art comes freely and without effort," he says. "I just try to get out of the way."
In his spare time, Hyman also curates underground art shows. Exhibiting artists range from 9 to 60 years old, and many of them have never shown their work in public. Hyman's one condition for the shows is that they are free and open to the public. There is no submission or jury process because he says, "Who am I to say what is good art or to decide who is a good artist?" He takes pleasure in knowing that he's providing unknown artists with a jumping off place so their art can reach a wider audience.
Hyman describes his process as the way a child will knock on your door and ask for their friend to come out and play. He sees art as a tool to educate and bring social change. "I'm relatively poor, but rich with the life experiences of making a difference through art," he says. Driven by the desire to create more venues for underground art in Charleston, he is a well-known go-to man for artists looking to gain exposure. One of his more successful exhibits is The Suitcase Show, which is now in its fourth year. "I'll do any medium, from installation to abstract expressionism," Hyman says. An example is this year's Edgar Allen Poe Fest, which included an interactive installation from Hyman.
His list of projects is exhaustive, and it almost doesn't come as a surprise when he describes the heart attack he had two years ago. Hyman passed out in the middle of an exhibit and woke up in the hospital. "Everyone in my family has died once," he laughs, but his eyes aren't smiling. Ten years ago, he was on a ladder in Marion Square hanging lights when he got a call from the hospital saying his pregnant wife, Kay, was in danger. After an emergency caesarian section, their daughter was born 14 weeks early weighing 2 pounds. She is now a healthy 10-year-old who will dress as Alice in Wonderland's white queen for Halloween. "My best piece of art," he says.
The bi-monthly Eyeball Art Show at Jimbo's Rock Lounge features two artists with an acoustic act or a garage band. Up next on the roster is Erin Eckman and Paula Woodworth with music from Jordan Igoe on Nov. 4. In December, the theme of the exhibit will be flight — think birds, flying machines, and flight from persecution. He also has two upcoming shows at the Mill. "I always make my own opportunities," Hyman says of the broad reach of his exhibits.
Hyman wants art to touch as many people as it can, unfolding again and again in a domino effect. Art lovers are fortunate that this "machine" calls Charleston home.