Birds of Britain
Richard Phillips’ glossy hyper-real paintings incorporate material taken from a range of cultural sources including porn, advertising and fashion spreads from the 1960s and 1970s. They also reference the Pop paintings of Mel Ramos, Alex Katz, Chuck Close and Andy Warhol. For this exhibition, the artist presented five duotone portraits based on a book of photographs, taken by John D Green, that celebrates well-known British models of the 1960s.
The duotone paintings—executed on canvas in oil and gilded aluminium—all testify to the reverently handmade quality of Phillips’ work. The stark use of black and white was a departure from thes artists usual heightened colour palette. In the portrait Ingrid Boulting (After John d Green) (2002), we are presented with a close-up of a girl’s face, a Twiggy look-alike, eyes cast downward at the viewer, and mouth half-open, implying a powerful yet submissive pose. In a pair of images, Venetia Cuninghame (right), (After John d Green) (2002) and Venetia Cuninghame (left), (After John d Green) (2002), a girl with wet hair is portrayed in mirror image—as a dualistic fantasy. Everything is chromatically intensified in the paintings—from the glaring whites of the models’ eyes to their dark, kohl-black lashes—which are rendered in a pure, unmarked style.
Cropped in a sexually provocative manner, and presented without the contextual details of a setting, the models become emptied out, voided. The paintings’ reflective surfaces accentuate this distant, vacant and mask-like quality, simultaneously suggesting they are rarefied and hieratic, set-back and untouchable. The women appear to be representatives of a higher order, like medieval icons, empty and available for veneration.
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