PHILJAMES & POLLY BORLAND
FROM CHRYSANTHEMUM, TO CHRYSANTHEMUM
EXHIBITION CURRENT TO 25 SEPTEMBER 2021
POLLY BORLAND REPRESENTED BY SULLIVAN + STRUMPF
‘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.
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
"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
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
$3,300 - CONTACT GALLERY FOR AVAILABILITY
"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
$4,400 - CONTACT GALLERY FOR AVAILABILITY
"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
$14,000 - CONTACT GALLERY FOR AVAILABILITY
Tenderness and terror
Vinyl sex doll, plush dolls (Garfield, Pink Panther), foam, nylon, polyester, upholstery thread
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 Wynne Prize (2021), 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).
Polly Borland’s practice was established in the late 1980s by major portrait commissions and extraordinary reportage. Since 2000 the photographer’s art projects, exhibitions and publications have recorded documentary, collaborative and created subjects.
Before focusing on art projects, Borland shot regularly for numerous UK and US publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Independent and Dazed and Confused. In 1994 she won the prestigious John Kobal Photographic Portrait Award. Her work has appeared in numerous exhibitions, and a selection of photographs from a previous body of work, The Babies was exhibited at the Southbank’s Meltdown Festival in 1999, curated that year by Nick Cave. In 2000 The National Portrait Galleries in London and Canberra exhibited Australians, a major commissioned solo exhibition. Powerhouse published her first book The Babies in 2001 with an essay by the late Susan Sontag. In that same year Borland was one of eight photographers selected to photograph Queen Elizabeth II for the Golden Jubilee.
In 2008 Damien Hirst’s Murderme Ltd Collection acquired an entire edition of the 50 photographs from Bunny. The artist’s work has also been acquired by the collections of the National Portrait Galleries, London and Canberra, the Museum of Old and New Art, Hobart and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, New York.
In 2011, Borland relocated to Los Angeles, California to begin work on Pupa, which was later exhibited at Murray White Room, Melbourne, Australia.
A survey show of Borland's work was held at the University of Queensland Art Museum, Polly Borland: Everything I want to be when I grow up, in 2012. The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles commissioned Borland and John Hillcoat to direct a short film for the Los Angeles band IO Echo's "Berlin It's All A Mess" in that same year.
Polly Borland’s photographs are included in the Balnaves Contemporary biennial exhibition, We used to talk about love, Balnaves contemporary: photomedia at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 31 January – 21 April 2013.
In 2013, a documentary on the artist and her work, entitled Polymorphous, directed by Alex Chomicz, aired on ABC Television, Australia in March 2013. Shortly after, Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York held a solo exhibition of Polly Borland’s work entitled You, and again in 2014 at the Murray White Room Gallery, Melbourne, Australia.
Additionally, The Australian Centre of Photography, Melbourne held a solo exhibition of her work titled, Wonky. In 2014, Polly Borland was featured in five group shows worldwide: Small is Beautiful show, Flowers Gallery, New York City; Pardon My French, Marcas Gallery, Anaheim California; Episodes: Australian Photography Now, 13th Dong Gang International Photo Festival Seoul, Korea; Art Basel Hong Kong, Hong Kong; and The Other Criteria Flagship Store/Gallery Opening, New York City.