NEW YORK — Painter Guy Stanley Philoche, a star in the New York art world, had wanted to treat himself to a fancy watch after a hugely successful gallery show. Then the pandemic hit, and he feared for all the struggling artists who haven't been so lucky.
So he gave up his $15,000 Rolex dreams and went on a different kind of buying spree, putting out a call on Instagram in late March to any artist anywhere who had creations to sell. The submissions rolled in, hundreds at a time.
He's spent about $60,000 so far with plans to continue as long as he can, and Philoche's own patrons have taken notice and asked him to make purchases on their behalf as well.
"It's about artists helping artists," said the 43-year-old Philoche, who came to America from Haiti with his family at age 3, nearly nothing to their names.
"I'm not a rich man," he said, "but I owe a big debt to the art world. Art saved my life, and I made a promise to myself that once I made it, to always buy from artists who hadn't gotten their big break."
Philoche has a budget, seeking out works in the $300 to $500 range. He buys only what he loves, from as far away as London and as close as the studio next to his in East Harlem. An abstract mixed-media piece by Michael Shannon, his studio neighbor, was his first purchase, leading Philoche to include him and others he's discovered in an upcoming group gallery show.
About half the artists Philoche has chosen are people he knows, many in New York. The others sent him direct messages on Instagram with sample work in hopes of being picked.
Philoche, who went to art school in Connecticut where his family settled, has lined the walls of his tiny apartment with his Philoche Collection During Covid, ranging from graffiti-inspired work and portraiture to pop art and a huge pistol done in bright yellow, red and blue paint.
Philoche's own work goes for up to $125,000 a piece. During a recent interview at his studio, he slid out from storage large canvases from his breakthrough, Mark Rothko-esque abstract Untitled Series and a collection of female nudes with duct tape over their mouths. Often whimsical, he has also produced paintings inspired by Monopoly and other board games, as well as comics such as Charlie Brown.
Among his clients: Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch and Barclay Investments Inc., along with Uma Thurman, George Clooney and fellow artist Julian Schnabel.
Giving back isn't something the affable Philoche just recently decided to do. Over his 20-plus year career, he has tried to stick to a simple rule to support other artists: Sell a painting, buy a painting. But it was a chance meeting with a friend and fellow artist who was anxious about the pandemic with a baby on the way that set him on his pandemic buying spree.
"I'm not on the first line, but my community was impacted as well," he said. "It was just the right thing to do. I love waking up in my apartment every morning seeing the walls. There's paintings on the floor, all over. Some of these people have never sold a painting in their life."
His feisty French bulldog Picasso at his side, Philoche recalled his own meager start in New York after he put himself through art school while working full-time as a bartender.
"People didn't open the doors for me. I had to get into the room through the back door, or through the window," he said with a laugh. "But now that I'm in the room, with a seat at the table, I have to open doors for these artists."