EXHIBITION OPENS THIS SATURDAY 22 JULY, 4 TO 6 PM
22 JULY TO 13 AUGUST 2017
For Philjames’ first Melbourne excursion he has bought together a collection from his oeuvre in the form interventions on vintage offset lithographs, original paintings and sculpture. These interventions are immediately playful taking reference from popular films, comics and television with a predilection for science fiction. The result is a kind of ‘speculative history’ or perhaps the imagining of a history in a parallel universe, one where things are at once familiar, yet bizarre.
The titular works in Piano Teef are presented as a homage to the cartoons of his youth. The reworkings of the characters are not mere facsimiles or pointed observation of the slapstick tradition. Here they are steeped in anxiety, a direct reaction to the collective shock of recent global events. They contemplate the bewilderment at the election, and ongoing Presidency, of Donald Trump, or the move to excise the United Kingdom from the European Union.
The larger collection of works in the show are a continuation of Philjames 2015 exhibition ‘Yellow Peril’. Rather than the xenophobic attitudes of 19th century Europeans toward the people of East Asia, for which the term was coined, ‘Yellow Peril’ contemplates an idea of the West becoming consumed by their devotion to false idols, the type previously reserved for a higher belief system. Grotesque hybrids of the Simpsons, SpongeBob SquarePants, Pikachu become our most revered religious icons, our nourishment, our history, and our legacy. What is particularly unsettling about these works is not necessarily the grotesqueness of the interventions, but the cool normalcy of the underlying painting. There is a sense that everything is fine, where it is clearly not.
The show is rounded out by a selection of works loosely referred to as the ‘Smilex’ series. These are the quintessential works in Philjames’ oeuvre. The four pieces have a distinctly sci-fi theme to them. Two of the works feature large headed humanoids, which recall the classic alien menace from the Golden Age of science fiction. Instead of menacing puny Earthlings, they enjoy a drink together. This simple intervention in such a historical setting throws time, space, and the idea of future into question, evoking that most classical sci-fi introduction “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away”. The last two works imagine Astro Boy’s brother Atlas as a hulking giant (in a somewhat cheeky nod to Francisco de Goya), and a lone astronaut witnessing the entry of a meteor signalling an imminent end to life as we know it. Each of the works in this show are imbued with humour and introspection that is distinctly Philjames.
Tristan Chant 2017
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