Story by Kaitlin Hill
Hubert Phipps passed away on June 18, 2023, at his Middleburg home, Whiskey Hill Farm. His passing was the result of a tragic tree clearing accident. Phipps was 65.
In a May 2021 Middleburg Life article titled, “Meet Your Neighbor: Inside the Mind of Hubert Phipps,” I characterized the Middleburg-based, nationally recognized artist as “hard to describe” in an attempt to capture his otherworldliness. For the interview, Phipps opened the doors to Whiskey Hill Farm and invited me to explore every corner and ask every question I could think of. A few hours with him resulted in a conversation about art, fast cars, success, and self-doubt. I reflect on that conversation frequently not for, as one might think, the degree to which I was deeply impressed by him, but because of how disarmingly down-to-earth he was.
From a young age, Phipps loved to draw. He would transcribe political cartoons from his father’s paper, the then-Fauquier Democrat, later the Fauquier Times. In 1974, at just 17, Phipps would become a member of New York’s Art Students League and later enroll at the San Francisco Art Institute at 21.
Even with formal training, his focus wouldn’t zero in on art until later in life. In 2021 he shared, “I got involved in many other endeavors in life. I am a lifelong aviator. I got my student pilot’s license when I was 16. Plus, I had a career as a professional racecar driver back in the 1980s.”
Phipps raced from 1980 to 1985, winning the SCCA Formula Atlantic National Champion title in 1981.
In the early 2000s, Phipps decided to center his focus. During our interview he explained, “I had never stopped doing art… It was just always in the background or not the most important thing. Around 2002 or 2003, I decided that I was going to make a commitment to my artwork.”
He moved back to Middleburg in 2004 and transformed an old helicopter hanger into his studio, office, and exhibit.
In that space, Phipps worked in a variety of mediums including metal, clay, pigment, light, sound, and even soot, creating art that could be described as transcendent, futuristic, and utterly unique.
Standing at nine feet tall and stretching 25 feet across, his “Dream Wall” (2019) exemplifies Phipps’ passion for pushing the limits. The piece was done in collaboration with three artists (Jeff Grantz, Jason Crigler, and Samo Okerstrom-Lang) and represents three mediums: structure, light, and sound. In my original interview, he shared with me, “There can be impossibilities, physical limitations to achieving what I have in my mind. And sometimes, the physical realities of making something will not achieve the aesthetic goal I have. One of the challenges is to overcome the mind’s thought of ‘this is not going to work,’ and rather, take on ‘this is not working, but if this door closes, another door opens.’”
Pursuing the impossible is what made Phipps a great artist. But, his humility is what made him a great man. In 2021, arguably approaching the height of his success, though sadly we’ll never know that upper limit, Phipps said to me, “One of the things I really struggle with is my lack of confidence in the work that I do.” As he looked around his studio filled with masterpieces of all artistic forms, he seemed to solidify himself against his own self-doubt. “For somebody to excel at whatever they do, at least my experience is, is to not be preoccupied with the results. And if it’s something you enjoy doing, do it for the enjoyment of doing it. This has been an absolute key idea that did resonate with me.”
To me, and I hope to the many people that knew and loved Hubert Phipps, that’s the takeaway of his life. “Do it for the enjoyment of doing it.”
Hubert Phipps is survived by his sister, Melissa Phipps Gray; his cousin, Susan Phipps Cochran; his nephew, Justin Phipps Boyce; his niece, Emma Bouverie Boyce; and his mentor, Cameron Lancaster. ML
Published in the July 2023 issue of Middleburg Life.