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 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 Hazelhurst Art on Paper Award (2017), The Blake Prize (2014, 2005), The John Fries Memorial Art Prize (2012) and The Brett Whiteley Travelling Art Scholarship (2006, 2005). He was a finalist in the 2017 Sulman Prize. His work is held in the collection of Artbank.
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 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 . 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.
 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.
 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.
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
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