Maker Spotlight: Philo Northrup

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Maker Spotlight: Philo Northrup

Name: Philo Northrup
City: Reno, Nevada
Makerspace: Home garage studio
Day Job: President of a start-up called ActivBody

Me with my 6th ArtCar, Daisy Singer, at a burned out gas station. Photo by Charles Russell.

How’d you get started making? I started making trophies for my older brothers when I was about 10 years old. They would be assemblages that followed the basic structure of athletic trophies, but they depicted less-than-heroic events in my brothers’s lives, e.g. locking their keys in the car, motorcycle wreck, skipping class, etc.

What type of maker would you classify yourself as? I’m an assemblage artist that enjoys playful, accessible mediums. The ArtCars are a good example, as I exhibit every day when I drive to work, to shop, etc. Another good example we exhibited at the Maker Faire (with Jillian & Toast) was ArtGolf. This was a miniature golf course built by artists that I started in 1989 (and was profiled in the Wall St. Journal for it).

Me and the Truck in Flux (my 4th ArtCar, started in 1990) at Burning Man 2014. The truck is on the historical list with the Burning Man DMV, and is one of only a few street-legal ArtCars left that is licensed to drive on the playa. Photo taken by Jan Elftmann.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve made? I love big installations where I can populate a space with dozens or even hundreds of assemblages. The ArtCars are sort of like that, and ArtGolf is certainly that. I’ve also created environments in art spaces such as the “PhiloMart” which featured a very subversive toy department and drug department. In a huge office space (17,000 sq ft) I took over about 15 “cubes” so that right next to people working on software there would be a mini art show. For example there was a “Backward Compatibility Lab” cube with 1984 Macs and other ancient tech. There was a “Library” cube with all sorts of bizarre reading material, and a “Productive Play” cube featuring my “ToyBox” series.

Daisy Singer. Photo by Jillian Northrup

What’s something you’d like to make next? My dream is to have a compound like Noah Purifoy out in Joshua Tree. I’d like to do a bigger, more complete office space. I’d like to do an art motel, where every room is a different installation. I will definitely do another ArtCar.

Any advice for people reading this? In order to be a maker you need to have a strategy. Whether you make art, music, performance, etc., you need a plan for how to keep going and support your “art habit.” It’s rare to be financially stable by making new creative things, but it’s incredibly important so you have to figure out a way to keep doing it. Many teach. Others work as artists and writers commercially. I’ve always had a day job, usually managing software teams, and keep my art separate. That’s one of the reasons the ArtCars suit me, because it reinforces my artistic identity every day. I can’t stress how important “making” is, as personified by Maker Faire. It may not be a living for most, but it’s much more than a hobby — it’s “Productive Play,” voluntary work, which is how we put forth our true selves and in that way find our tribe.

Another ArtCar, the “Buick of Unconditional Love” which features 1941 Buick fenders on an ’86 Park Avenue, and a hood covered with mummified fish.

Who else should we profile? There are so many great artists and makers out there. Have you profiled Bob Schulz? Up until just recently Bob ran the 5th & Embarcadero artists space in Oakland. He’s an amazing maker, combining car parts, wheelchairs, and pieces of boats to create unique and bizarre machines that look commercially produced. The 5th & Embarcadero art space is about to go away. Bob just turned 80 and we brought about 50 ArtCars there to pay tribute to him.

Perhaps this is too conceptual “making,” but Anne Sconberg and Mark Henderson made the ArtParty in San Jose and it galvanized the South Bay arts and maker and Burning Man Community. They basically established a DIY art scene — Mad Max meets Moulin Rouge — by force of will.

Lastly there’s Jan Elftmann in Minneapolis. She walks the line between art and science as an educator, and is a top notch assemblage artist.

Where can people find you on the web? On my personal website, ArtCar Fest, and the Reno Institute for Small Dogs.

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Sophia is the managing editor of the Make: blog. When she’s not greasing editorial gears, she likes to run, ride, climb, and lift things, and make lo-tech goods like zines, desserts, and altered clothing. @sophiuhcamille

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