White Cube Hoxton Square
28. January – 05. March 2011
Richard Phillipsâ€™ Most Wanted is an identity parade of some of the most popular young faces in America today. Phillips has taken found imagery of contemporary icons; Robert Pattinson, Zac Efron, Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Timberlake, Chace Crawford, Kristen Stewart, Dakota Fanning, Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Taylor Momsen (wait.. who?) and created a series of ten (approx. 8 x 6 ft) oil painted portraits.
“For â€˜Most Wantedâ€™, Richard Phillips selected ten of Americaâ€™s most instantly recognisable celebrities from the realms of television, cinema and music to create distilled portraits of young, powerful stars exhibiting their rehearsed, red-carpet expressions.” – White Cube
Stepping into the main gallery your eye is immediately drawn to the far wall which is dotted with brand names and logos replicating the shameless product pushing backdrops often found at red carpet events. This wall is sandwiched between two rows of large canvases running parallel either side. I believe due to this feature wall the initial impact of Phillips’ works has been unfortunately reduced to a peripheral blur. It isn’t until I shuffle back to take in the right hand wall in it’s entirety that I realise that the way in which his work has been hung has really done Phillips’ work a great disservice.
From left to right the faces of Dakota Fanning, Taylor Swift, Kristen Stewart, Taylor Momsen and Mylie Cyrus are lined up like self contained bill board sized mug shots. Phillips’ portraits are incontestably two dimensional, with a profound lack of detail and make no pretense of photorealism – but that is not neccessarily a bad thing. Each image appears to be vibrating with colour, an effect reminiscent of the chromatic distortion you experience when removing your 3D spec’s mid film at the cinema. After taking a moment to study Kristen Stewart’s flawless, luminescent complexion and Play Doh Factory hair I can see references to influential pop artists; Koons, Warhol and Lichtenstein. Phillips’ portraits also make reference to illustrator Richard Bernstein‘s illustrations for Interview magazine.
Upstairs, in the first floor gallery space the original pastel drawings for all ten canvases can be found. As a practitioner who specializes in drawing myself I often gravitate towards a painters preliminary drawings much more than the paintings themselves. On a considerably smaller (32.5 x 26.7 cm) scale these gridded pastel drawings have a level of intensity that has subsequently be lost when translated to canvas.
Looking from one portrait to the next each new face looks similar to the last, frozen artificial smiles and coy over the shoulder glances. Phillips is none too subtly highlighting the now indistinguishable relationship between celebrity culture and consumer culture. Surprisingly Phillips’ huge glassy eyed portraits do not have the formidable presence you would expect instead I found the experience very similar to flicking through a trashy gossip magazine. As a viewer I felt that these images had been blown up and transformed into a celebrity fashion mistakes feature magnifying each individuals flaws for my entertainment.
“The celebrities depicted create for millions of people an experience beyond rationalisation. With this group of ten paintings, the artist proposes an immediate connection with mass audiences that have been categorically disenfranchised from the specialised interest of high art, inviting contemplation on the power of celebrity branding to shape the face of our future.” – White Cube
Our temperamental approach to the now throw away nature ofÂ celebrity initially undermines these artworks and appears to leave Most Wanted at an intellectual dead end. However, these images are a staunch reminder that the ‘Most Wanted’ are no longer regarded as individuals but marketable commodities, which I believe restores credibility to Phillips’ practice. Not only are the clothes we wear and the food we eat governed by our consumer culture but it also impacts on our personal identity, body image and sense of self. Phillips may raise these issues in a cliched fashion but it focuses the spotlight on these issues non the less.