Artist Spotlight: Phillip Rex Huddleston of the Garland House

Rock City’s art scene always seems to twist back to what is only a vague idea in my mind – The Garland House. Digging further, the house leads to Phillip Rex Huddleston, North Little Rock native and local artist. By pinning down his story, you’re more likely to truly get the hype centering on the house. Read on.

Phillip Rex Huddleston points to his dad for the beginnings of many of his interests, including drawing, literature, and even the ‘90s crime drama, “Twin Peaks.”

“We’re two peas in a pod, really,” he says, smiling, “He taught me everything, he raised me on comic books, good books, and good literature.”

Huddleston remembers drawing from an early age, as his father was a political cartoonist for many years. Early on, he was interested in Adrian Tomine’s style, specifically the simple but bold line-work. He also followed the work of Sam Kieth, the creator of “The Maxx.” “It wasn’t until high school that I really started to develop my own style,” he added.

As supportive as his parents were of his interest in drawing, they weren’t so sure he could make it as a musician. He finally received a guitar, though, and immediately had a band. Even today Huddleston weaves music within his other artistic endeavors.

During college, he kept his interests of both music and drawing alive at UCA, where he received an undergraduate degree in philosophy and a Master’s in English Literature.

Cue the Garland House.

“A bunch of us were finally graduating from grad school, we had all lived in Conway for six years, and we moved down and found this incredible house,” he says, pointing to the tall, ceilinged room he calls his own. The house has character, a rumored birth date of 1901, and has been, since Huddleston and his crew moved in, the backdrop for art shows, although it would take time to morph organically into what it is now.

Immediately after moving down, Huddleston was more concerned with finding a job and paying rent that hanging art on the walls, settling at Vino’s to wash dishes. “I’m pretty sure they said I was the only person with a Master’s that ever washed dishes for them,” he laughs, “But I was happy with my education, happy with what was going on, and I don’t regret any of it, ever.”

From there he was able to snag a gig at a law office before teaching at UCA. Unfortunately, he realized he would need a PHD to make it really work on the campus. Luck was on his side, though, as he secured a job at ESTEM teaching art.

“This is my third year teaching middle school art,” he says, “I love it, I get to share so much.” He spends an hour with his students every day, working on projects with a group he considers extremely mature for their age. “Teaching art is amazing, and that just fuels me to continue. The second I get off work I don’t feel exhausted – instead I feel energized,” he says.

He takes that energy and puts it back into his own projects, which currently center around commissioned pieces. You may have seen his work in the men’s restroom at South on Main, or on the Queer Prom t-shirts that made their debut at a Sway event, recently. He also creates music for friend’s films. Basically, the man keeps pretty busy.

And then there’s the house shows.

Huddleston laughs and says, “The first one was almost a joke. One of the housemates was having a birthday and I had some new art that I was working on and another friend had some new art. So, I said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if we just hung up some art work upstairs so we could have a birthday bash where people could also see what we’ve been working on.’”

It turned out that 50 – 100 people really enjoyed seeing the art. The success made him want to try again, but without the birthday bash attached. This time they invited a few bands to play.

That was a turning point as he remembers, “That’s where it really organically took off – we had music, we had food, we had art, there were a few organizations attached who wanted to share info.” The shows have been steadily coming since.

Don’t despair if you’ve never been part of the fun, there’s an event coming up next month – Sept. 4.

The theme this year takes its cue from “Twin Peaks,” and there will be 19 artists showing at the event. With descriptions like “frightening” and “ridiculous,” this show is unlike any previous.

For Huddleston, “Twin Peaks” has a special place in his childhood, as he says, “I was raised on it.” As a 12-year-old one summer, his father had given him one job – record the episodes that were being rerun so that they could watch it together later on.

Of course, he watched it on his own, first. “I got to interpret it on my own and then … I sat there in a lonely house thinking Bob was going to get me,” he laughs.

Huddleston can’t keep his excitement hidden for the ninth Garland House show. “There’s something about the aura of this house, people are just respectful here,” he says.

He feels at home, both at Garland and in Little Rock at large. He loves going to Bruno’s downtown for fun, as well as checking out what his friends and other artists are up to.

His one suggestion to the scene would be for staunch support of the arts. He says, “It’s not that we don’t have the artists, food, culture, or even politics to discuss …  we just need some solid, consistent support for artists to get to that next level.”

Check out the event page for the show here, and then make plans to be there.

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