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With YouTube, artist needs no gallery

  • Story Highlights
  • Phil Hansen creates his artwork in the basement of his brother's home
  • By recording the creative process, viewers can connect with his work online
  • In some cases, the art is fleeting and the only evidence of his artwork is on video
  • Video-sharing sites such as YouTube and MySpace have been instrumental
  • Next Article in Living »
By Valerie Streit
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(CNN) -- Phil Hansen would not consider himself a performance artist, though time-lapse videos capturing his artistry in action have generated a lot of buzz online.


Phil Hansen stands next to "A Moment," which is people's shared memories painted on a rotating canvas.

His most viral Web video, "Bruce Video," which he submitted to CNN via I-Report, has been viewed more than 3 million times on YouTube, Break and MySpace combined.

In "Bruce," Hansen dips his hands in black paint and karate chops the canvas, forming an image of martial arts film legend Bruce Lee.

"I have not shown in a gallery," Hansen says. "It will happen eventually . . . but I have had a lot more publicity."

For now, Hansen hosts his own virtual gallery on his Web site, which includes a live studio cam.

The 27-year-old works from the basement of his brother's home in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. Mostly self-taught, Hansen learned the basics in high school. He did attend art school, but he dropped out, opting to pursue his own technique instead. To pay the bills, he works full time as an X-ray technician at a trauma hospital (he plans to cut back his hours in November).

Hansen says he found that still photographs did not always do his work justice. With video as an ally, he started experimenting with speed, narration and the process itself. He discovered that art can be more than just a means to an end, and that the art-making process can sometimes be more engaging.

"I think more people will connect with my videos. That's our society now. It's more interactive."

Hansen recently solicited strangers from all over the world to participate in one of his pieces.

In "A Moment," he posted his phone number online and asked people to call and share a life-changing memory. He received more than 600 responses. Hansen spent six straight days in front of his studio Web cam, painting the shared memories on a rotating circular canvas starting from the center and working his way out. He left his work space only to take bathroom breaks. Video Watch Hansen create "A Moment" and talk about his work »

"I have never involved other people like that before," Hansen says. "People were watching me write their statements, watched me talk to them, and watched me while I was sleeping, which was weird."

The final product is what Hansen calls "fragmented portraiture." The personal stories, written in black paint, formed an image of Hansen's face framed by four hands.

Sometimes public involvement has its limits. "I find it discouraging when people e-mail me ideas," Hansen says without any hint of annoyance. He often receives suggestions to create pieces too similar to those he has already made. "Ultimately, it's about the art and the quality of the piece. . . . I don't think about how popular it's going to be that day. I just find something that I want to do, and I do it."

The preparation involved in some of Hansen's pieces can be tedious and repetitive. So much so that his parents and his colleagues have helped with the grunt work.

In "Blood," Hansen painted the face of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il with 500 milliliters of his own blood on a canvas of 6,000 bandages. His co-workers at the trauma center helped him unwrap each one of them.

In "Jimi," Hansen used approximately 7,000 black-and-white matchsticks to form a sculpture of Jimi Hendrix. His parents enthusiastically volunteered to help paint the tips red. Why matchsticks? Hansen set "Jimi" on fire, allowing 40 hours of his labor to go up in smoke.

The only evidence of the work is the video. "Jimi" is the fourth in Hansen's new series of work aptly named Goodbye Art.

Hansen owes much of his artistic exposure to video-sharing sites such as YouTube, Break and MySpace.


He acknowledges that the Web sites can turn amateurs into paid professionals overnight. However, most often the fame spawned by viral video extinguishes as quickly as the face of Hendrix in Hansen's "Jimi." "I think YouTube is now. But I don't think it's forever," says Hansen. "I don't see an artist saying, 'All of my success is coming from YouTube.' "

But what if YouTube can drive the success of an artist such as Hansen? "They [YouTube] would love that," Hansen laughs. But would he love it? "Yes, but I wouldn't give them all the credit." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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