PHILJAMES

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BIOGRAPHY

Philjames has held solo exhibitions since 2010. He has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Printmaking) from the National Art School, Sydney (2002). Philjames’ work has been included in group exhibitions in Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle, Adelaide and internationally in Christchurch NZ, New Orleans USA and Beijing China.

A monograph on Philjames was published in 2014. He was awarded the Allan Gamble Award at the Mosman Art Prize (2020), the Waverley Art Prize (2020), the Art Incubator Foundation Grant (2015), a Creative Industries Fund Development Grant, CAL (2011) and an Australian Cultural Residency, Beijing, China (2010).

Philjames has been a finalist in the Sir John Sulman Prize (2020, 2018 and 2017), the Mosman Art Prize (2019), the Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award (2019, 2017), the Shirley Hannah National Portrait Award (2018), the Blake Prize (2018, 2014, 2005), The John Fries Memorial Art Prize (2012) and The Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship (2006, 2005). He is a finalist in the 2021 Wynne Prize.

ARTIST CV

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WORKS

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PAST EXHIBITIONS

FROM CHRYSANTHEMUM, TO CHRYSANTHEMUM (WITH POLLY BORLAND)

31 AUGUST TO 25 SEPTEMBER 2021

 

EXHIBITION ESSAY

‘All he ever did in life was arrive,’ says Philjames of Jacques Brel’s “J’arrive” (1968). Naming his new collaboration with Polly Borland after a lyric from Brel’s song, Philjames asserts that it has nothing to do with the work, acting rather as an ambiguous soundtrack to the existential longing humans propagate around not just ‘arriving’, but making a mark in this life.

Early in his career Philjames was a street artist who did exactly that: make a mark. Literally, with tags and a spray can. He became known for his pop savvy interventions into Sydney’s urban streetscapes through bombing antics that became infamous over time, despite their ephemerality. His street art methodology gradually started informing work made for white cube contexts. ‘Defacing’ vintage op-shop lithographs with appropriated cartoons, Philjames would seize upon found imagery from clashing eras to manifest retrofuturistism as sociopolitical commentary.

Moving from found lithographs to photographs for The TV Show at Wollongong Art Gallery (which I curated in 2018), the first picture he painted over was a snapshot depicting the artist with his two siblings watching The Dukes of Hazard on the telly in the early 80s. On screen is a closeup of the General Lee, the Confederate flag emblazoned vehicle featured in the series. Commenting on how white right-wing propaganda fashions young minds through sugar-coated media images, Philjames haunts this otherwise nostalgic domestic scene with racist Disney characters as leering demonic avatars.

Polly Borland and Philjames, 2018

And that’s when Philjames met Polly Borland. Appearing together in a group show in late 2018, they hit it off. Soon after Borland invited Philjames to use his trademark cartoon vandalism to fuck with her portraits of two of the most powerful – and caricatured – political celebrities of our time: Donald Trump and Queen Elizabeth II. Corrupting both with cartoon debris, Philjames retrofits their image with the connotations of monstrosity that lie barely buried beneath the surface of their well-rehearsed personas.

From Chrysanthemum, to Chrysanthemum extends their collaboration into new and unexpected territory. Using a selection from Borland’s 2018 series Morph as the starting point, the parameters of this new series formed when Borland proposed he avoid the appropriation of known cartoon tropes. Morph’s monochromatic palette and fleshy, bulbous forms were to become the substrate for Philjames to summon his own monsters.

The polymorphic sexuality of Borland’s ambiguous creatures is inherently aberrant and monstrous. Lurking in the psyche as vestiges of the unconscious, their shapeshifting capacity is both emotional and corporeal with Borland orchestrating their vaguely human form as an exercise in empathy. The otherwise blank canvas of their stretchy nylon ‘skin’ is a palimpsest where our desires, fears and expectations can be etched – the perfect readymade canvas for an artist like Philjames.

Melding Borland’s menagerie of monsters with his own, Philjames applies a new skin to the image, describing the process as intuitive and automatic. Interpreting Borland’s forms like Rorschach inkblots, he set out to enhance and destroy the existing figuration with absurd technicolour humour. Knowing that one of Borland’s influences for Morph was “Pink Elephants on Parade”, the bizarre song sequence from Dumbo (1941) depicting hallucinating cartoons, Philjames incorporated a riff to the – yet again racist – Disney animation. Appearing as the only recognisable nod to an existing image, it divulges a shared visual language for a history of pictures and the horror they yield. In coming together, their shared vision aims not to sustain the horror but to transmute it. Once confined to art, it might just be possible that the horror can be contained.

 

Daniel Mudie Cunningham, 2021

EXHIBITION PRESS

"A truly unique collaboration, Philjames and Polly Borland's forthcoming show is an experimentation in photography and paint­ing that challenges the potential of both mediums. "I approached Polly to see if she'd be interested in doing a full collaborative show," says Philjames, "and as luck would have it she was super keen and suggested looking at the archives of her Morph series of works." The resulting works manifest in dark yet playful interrogations of both artist's psyches. The physicality and tangibility of Borland's contorted bodies are transformed into grotesque subjects insatiable for our gaze. Borland is represented by Sullivan+Strumpf, Sydney."

 

Camilla Wagstaff and Rose of Sharon Leake Art Collector, issue 97, 2021, p 31

EXHIBITION WORKS

CLICK IMAGES FOR CATALOGUE DETAILS

 

PHILJAMES: "The collaboration started with Polly and I both selecting around ten images. Actually, I selected ten but she cheekily switched a few out for others which worked out really well and they turned out to be the easiest to get going, because initially I intended to insert my usual array of appropriated characters etc, but after a long call with Polly she encouraged a more organic approach and to not protect her image (which is impossible, but great) and just to go for it and manifest our own characters or monsters, so…

Waiting for the large format prints to arrive I decided to pull apart her “Morph” monograph and create a few studies with a real kind of abandon and Polly's advice in my head and they started to appear really quickly and magically. I shot her a few pics and she was into them which was really cool. This start really got my blood going, it was great..."

 

OIL ON 'MORPH' ARCHIVAL CATALOGUE PAGE, FRAMED - 30 X 22 CM
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"Still waiting for the larger works, I had some beautiful paper lying around, so full of beans I decided to draw from the studies and create these larger scale ink works, which was a really refreshing exercise. I love drawing and this collab was just reconnecting all this old dusty wiring in me, and it really served as a way to get to know these forms and creatures, it was really birthing them or fleshing them out..."

 

INK ON ARCHES 640 GSM PAPER, UNFRAMED - 105 X 75 CM
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"Finally, these large scale prints arrive mounted and ready to go, and with these two previous stages under my belt it was time to charge. You’ll notice differences in some of the studies to the larger works, and those changes when they happened were due to upscaling in resolution and compositional changes based on that."

 

OIL ON ARCHIVAL COTTON RAG ON ALUMINIUM - 160 X 128 CM
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SOFT SCULPTURE

Philjames

Tenderness and terror

2021

Vinyl sex doll, plush dolls (Garfield, Pink Panther), foam, nylon, polyester, upholstery thread

 

THE COLA WARS

1 TO 19 MAY 2019

 

BART SIMPSON, HITLER, AND JESUS WALK INTO A BAR…

Philjames makes paintings that don’t sit easily into any one time; in a way you could call them timeless.

In his paintings, cartoon characters from the golden age of American animation[1] hang out with more contemporary classics like Matt Groening’s The Simpsons and Nintendo’s Pokémon. These much-loved characters, along with some of the artist’s own inventions, have been painstakingly rendered in oils and placed into a variety of scenes on found paintings, photographs, and vintage offset lithographs.

Paintings of Jesus on the cross; portraits of Spanish kings; a young Queen Elizabeth with her crown; sweeping European landscapes, and so on. Kitsch prints and paintings we have all come into contact with at one time or another, be it in the back of Vinnies, or at a Bowling Club, or taking pride of place above the mantlepiece at grandma’s house. Philjames’ alterations to these objects don’t destroy their kitsch qualities altogether, but upend the original’s intention, to create something both humorous and disturbing.

In The Smell of Blood, 2019, what would have originally been a religious scene with Mary, Joseph and a young Jesus, becomes something quite different. In the shaded yard of a house by a river, a bloated red-faced Adolf Hitler is on a bench knitting a silk KKK hood. He looks angrily over to Bart Simpson, whose own face is melting off his skull as if he’s been playing near a nuclear waste disposal site. Bart’s tongue lolls out of his teeth, and he looks up pleadingly from gapping sockets to a beleaguered Daffy Duck. Daffy’s face is disfigured; he looks down at Bart with a worried expression from with inside his open duckbill.

By borrowing cartoon characters from different times and placing them in antique scenes such as these, Philjames is creating his own warped pictorial history. It should feel strange to see all these different characters in one scene, but due to the near seamless use of scale, exact tone and colour blending, the new painted additions fit into their surroundings as if they were always there.

Philjames paintings evince influences from low culture. They show a love of the craft and technical skill of background and cell animation painting of the 1950’s and 60’s, as well as comic books and popular culture from the 1960’s to present day. Unsurprisingly, Philjames grew up in an era of cartoon commodification, with images of cartoon characters everywhere; on t-shirts, on cereal packets, on TV commercials, in full-length feature films, as toys and mascots, as clocks and telephones. The characters he paints are so engrained in the collective consciousness that it seems quite logical for them to be in a religious painting.

But don’t let the lowbrow influences or slapstick tropes fool you. These paintings are somewhat Machiavellian. In them a classic cartoon gag also speaks to the human condition and the real anxieties we all face living in the world today. The smiles on display are only one layer of paint deep: a thin veneer of happiness hiding something more troubling.

In The Cola Wars, Philjames presents three new canvases that do not rely on the found image at all. That’s all folks, 2019, is one of these works. It’s title as most will know, is lifted from the line made famous by a stuttering Porky Pig at the end credits of every Looney Tunes cartoon. Philjames’ painting is a recreation in oils of this scene – minus Porky. Rounded red edged curtains fold in around a thin blue centre like a fleshy bullseye, or an orifice, or an empty stage. When I look at this image I can’t help but imagine the artist in his studio, brush in hand and intense concentration on his face. With each brushstroke he paints back a piece of his childhood: to a simpler time, before our global warming crisis, Fukushima, 911 and Trump, before The Merry –Go Round Broke Down [2]. Maybe then it’s not a stage or a bullseye at all. This painting is Philjames’ escape tunnel.

Chris Dolman April 2019

Ps: Using Google search, I typed in YouTube/That’s all folks to see if I remembered the end credits of Looney Tunes correctly. On the page I noticed the last comment posted by gargoyles9999 - ‘If the world ends this should be the final broadcast.’

I smiled. Positive in the knowledge Philjames would agree with such an epitaph.

[1] A period in the history of U.S. animation that began with the advent of sound cartoons in 1928 and continued until around 1972. Disney, Warner Bros and Hanna-Barbera were the three major companies and created such characters as Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny, Fred Flintstone respectively.

[2]  The original song written in 1937 by Cliff Friend and Dave Franklin that was used by Warner Bros for the theme tune to Looney Tunes end credits.

EXHIBITION REVIEW

Anyone who’s wandered past centuries-old masterpieces in a major art gallery and found themselves thinking about cartoons instead will feel right at home with the work of Sydney artist Philjames. This collection of paintings adorns the old with the new – or sabotages the classical and traditional with the crass and disposable, depending on your point of view. As someone who grew up with The Simpsons at home and religious imagery at school, it’s a little unsettling to see them both in the one place. And yet it makes perfect sense.

So, with escalating levels of offensiveness, expect the following: Queen Elizabeth II depicted with cartoon bulging eyes and a waggling tongue; a nun grappling with temptation, an angel and devil perched on each shoulder; the Virgin Mary cradling a mutant version of Spongebob; and Jesus Christ wearing a Lisa Simpson T-shirt while carrying the cross on his back.

Will Cox 'In the Galleries: Five Shows to See in May' on Broadsheet 9 May 2019

PIANO TEEF

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

 

NEWS

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‘SIGHT UNSEEN: WORK FROM THE LOCKDOWN EXHIBITIONS – MILES HALL / PHILJAMES & POLLY BORLAND / JOHN BOKOR’ IN BELLE MAGAZINE’S FRIDAY FABULOUS FIVE

‘Sight Unseen’ at Nicholas Thompson Gallery presents selected works from three 2021 exhibitions that were rendered inaccessible to the public for their duration due to Melbourne’s lockdown. These highly distinct bodies of work – ‘Stardust’ by Montpellier-based artist Miles Hall, John Bokor’s ‘Still Lifes & Interiors’, and a joint series by Philjames and Polly Borland…

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PHILJAMES EXHIBITON WITH POLLY BORLAND PREVIEWED IN ISSUE 97 OF ‘ART COLLECTOR’ AND FEATURED ON COVER

A truly unique collaboration, Philjames and Polly Borland’s forthcoming show is an experimentation in photography and paint­ing that challenges the potential of both mediums. “I approached Polly to see if she’d be interested in doing a full collaborative show,” says Philjames, “and as luck would have it she was super keen and suggested looking at…

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PHILJAMES FINALIST IN WYNNE PRIZE 2021 AT ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES

Philjames is a finalist in the Wynne Prize 2021 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales . Philjames Spun idol machined polystyrene, polyurethane and automotive paint 110 x 65 x 65 cm . “Spun idol is inspired by Renato Bertelli’s 1933 ceramic bust of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Continuous profile (Head of Mussolini)…

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PHILJAMES FINALIST IN 2020 SIR JOHN SULMAN PRIZE AT ART GALLERY OF NEW SOUTH WALES

Philjames is a finalist in the 2020 Sir John Sulman Prize at the Art Gallery of New South Wales . Image Philjames The General Lee (1984–2018) 2020 oil on archival pigment print on cotton rag (colour photograph from artist’s personal archive) 110.5 x 162.5 cm . ‘This is a photo of my siblings and me…

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PHILJAMES AWARDED THE ALLAN GAMBLE AWARD IN THE 2020 MOSMAN ART PRIZE

Image: Philjames, ‘Landscape composition 1’, 2020, oil on vintage offset lithograph 71 x 80 cm Established in 1947, the Mosman Art Prize is Australia’s oldest and most prestigious local government art award. It was founded by the artist, architect and arts advocate, Alderman Allan Gamble, at a time when only a small handful of art…

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PHILJAMES AWARDED THE WAVERLEY ART PRIZE 2020

The Waverley Art Prize is open to painting, drawing print & mixed media – this year’s judges were George Raftopoulous (artist) and Laura Jones (artist)