Contemporaneous Extension

“Displacement of Subjectivity”

Last month I spoke with Richard Phillips for a forthcoming issue of CLEAR magazine (print relaunch coming soon!!) and ended up having a conversation I couldn’t stand to keep all to myself. Another excerpt will appear in Whitehot Magazine in the near future. Phillips currently has a blockbuster solo exhibition at Dallas Contemporary up through August 10th, and a solo show of his newest works up at Galerie Max Hetzler in Berlin (closing June 7).

LM: In terms of muse, and having muses in artistic practice and art history, is there anyone you’d ideally like to paint for aesthetic or conceptual reasons?

RP: In the past I’ve talked about this idea of a muse and it is a sexist term, because it is something where it’s someone who’s subordinate to musings of a male or dominant figure who somehow has the creative magic to take the energy of the possessed and somehow display it. It’s kind of a way for those who don’t have the ability to have muses hanging around. That’s where it kind of becomes a porn kinda thing. I never really think of the people that I’ve collaborated with as muses because, in fact, it’s them that would agree to work with me— to project their own image, to go through the process, to have that become part of my working process. So they really were collaborations, to the degree that they’ve collaborated with anyone else.

I do understand the conventional notion of the strength of the muse, but I’ve never thought of any of the people I’ve collaborated with as a muse of any sort. I don’t fetishize their involvement, I don’t sexualize it. It’s more about the projection of a certain group of ideas that might include an unstable understanding of sexuality, or an unstable understanding of media in relationship to that. So when it comes to who would I collaborate with in the future, I don’t know. What I really like about the work for Berlin is it does look like that even more because there’s a lack of sensational fame. Even though Catrinel is a well known model inside a segment of the fashion world, and also an actor within a certain segment of entertainment, it’s not like the incredible level of some people that I’ve worked with in the past. It’s like a deal being made in front of your eyes. Is the art more famous than the person? And then what do these values mean?

LM: Do you think this series makes clear why you’ve used females more than males?

RP: Go to a men’s line fashion show and there’s just no comparison in currency. Calvin Klein really was able to turn that on its head by employing Bruce Weber to create these incredible images that live through time. By and large, at least with this body of work, it’s obviously 100% weighted on female sexuality because it’s more heavily consumed. It’s presenting an ideal that is kind of a false ideal.

LM: Temporary, too.

RP: Time goes on—did you live up to that ideal in the moment, in your moment? In the moment, I don’t know. If you live up to the ideal of the painting, can you afford it? Can you go see it? Are you at the right party? Are you able to be at that house? What’s your access? Do you have a code? It becomes this thing, like the reading of art when you turn over the capacity to understand to a mediator. Or if it doesn’t follow a chain of understanding and if you go around that and end up at that point anyway, there is a ton of potential.

LM: There are conflicting levels of importance that rely on the viewer’s assignment. It does, however, undeniably elevate the endowment of contemporary art and it’s ability to make things “important.”

RP: This gets back to art viewership, which is really the subject of that body of work. It’s about parsing value systems and what gets value—art objects or the projection, or people and their role of projecting unreachable ideals? You have a multitude of unreachable ideals: one is the masterwork, and the value that is accrued and on display, and then you have fleeting moments of beauty and sexuality that are entirely unreachable. Catrinel is unreachable to 99.9999 percent of the population and yet there she is with the art that’s supposed to be for all in a public sense but is purely in private hands. It’s about exclusivity and rejection and about not being able to participate at all. There’s an enticement and a distortion of those looks—by the perversion of the art and the perversion of the person. The actuality of it is actually a much tougher look, but the toughness is undone by the raw fact of how they’re made. When you pit these understandings against technical realization there’s an unanticipated tension that exists. It’s no longer an homage anymore. Lichtenstein applying the Lichtenstein language to a Matisse was like, on one hand, a backhanded homage because he’s saying, ‘my technique can run over everything. It doesn’t matter if it’s Miro, my thing is gonna happen.’ But at the same time, it’s kind of like saying, ‘Matisse is great, Miro is great, we’re all great.’ What I’m saying is that we’re not all great. This stuff is out of reach, this stuff is perverted, it’s hoarded. The girls and the beauty and the sex, all these things are built into it. It’s a different type of reality.

Richard Phillips, No Fear, 2014. Oil on linen, 102 x 72.9 inches. Photo courtesy of Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin.

Richard Phillips, No Fear, 2014. Oil on linen, 102 x 72.9 inches. Photo courtesy of Galerie Max Hetzler, Berlin.


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