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Richard Phillips - Atlanta Tbilissi Atlanta (what-the-fuck)
Liam Gillick

Richard Phillips’ practice reveals a complex set of relationships within the dominant culture. His position when faced by an increasingly flattening matrix of cultural and social relationships is at once clear headed and critical while at the same time clearly intuitive and super-self-conscious about the impossibility of creating a stable long term image relations within contemporary culture. This is not a question of one technique or another, or a struggle specific to the medium of painting, but a conceptual revelation of cultural paradox via a chosen technique from another time that no longer has any power as a medium in itself to transcend the perceptual collapse it confronts. The temporary or the flawed here is brought to us via a neo-objective technique of examination and decontextualisation at the moment of creative decision-making. Through a particular clarity of technique and approach he makes us conscious of constant rearrangements of dominance in society while avoiding a simplistic reflection of hierarchies that we already know and clearly understand. Yet these revelations are always masked. The work is a sequence of absent veils that the viewer applies in order to avoid the clarity of the image. The work presents strange sides of a story. Didactic explanation is repressed and we are instead faced with a sequence of markers that filter out any consensus approach to addressing questions of representation, desire or ennui. He is an artist who creates a new form of implicated image, best viewed in a distracted state. The key way to appreciate or experience the work is when you are standing talking to someone and one of the paintings hangs on the wall behind their head. As when Philippe Parreno, in “Facteur Temps”, sent a young postman around the streets of Vienna to show off images to people in lieu of bringing them correspondence, Richard Philips presents those things that represent desire, craving or weight. Yet we face them with the same silence you get in a High School class when a teacher asks a common-sense question that half the people think is a trick and the other half are too distracted or dismissive to answer.

In the case of Richard Phillips we are obliged to consider images that are crucial to specific constructions of desire and resistance yet float free of a simple relationship with notions of power, iconography and control. Within his image making there is a layer of significance that does not allow osmotic leakage between that which is being represented and the people who are subjected to what is being depicted. Because of this we have to forget, for a moment, about Warhol and Richter, among others and in addition we must put aside any number of lucid photographers and artists who make it their business to render still and observable the images that guide our distinctions and reflect a peculiar form of disengaged representation of desire. Therefore the order of image making, depicting and representing here sits in a really strange location in terms of its ideological positioning. Forgetting about specific images for a moment, the ideological sub-structure (the DNA) of the mode of representation might sit somewhere between the aesthetic imposed in Tbilisi Georgia during the Soviet period and the one carefully constructed in Atlanta Georgia at the time of “Gone with the Wind”. We are invited to operate alongside a mode of representation that functions as a new form of representing emotion and ideology in equally revealing and concealing ways – a certain flatness in the way ideology and emotion is rendered that leaves us with no choice. Soviet realism is not useless for it tells us something about the pathology of corrupted idealism. The Technicolor of “Gone with the wind” still shows us moving people even though they spar in a surface world that can never fade. But both delaminate surface in relation to experienced reality. But they do it in a very specific way. The relationship between what is represented and the ideological apparatus that underscores the production of images is out of sync. Yet it is not a lie or a post-modern sheen. The image making of Georgia and Georgia (European country and American State) in its most well known forms creates a new layer of semi-autonomous signification strangely sandwiched but not completely alienated from embedded value systems that, in both cases are neither progressive or completely irrelevant to the political processes underscoring behaviour. Unlike the well-discussed models that emerged for image production in the 1960s (and were reconfigured in the 1980s) within the dominant culture, Richard Phillip’s work taps into a varnished construction of ideology where, regardless of how long we stop to consider that which is being represented, has a tendency to evade total identification with the depicted or complete alienation from the source of the work.

Part of the peculiarity of his practice is due to this strange relation to the ideological charge of imagery. In some ways he uses the lie of propaganda and the useless consumption of pornography to create what ought therefore to provide a deeply moralised (Anglo-Saxon) view of the social interface, or better put, the micro-spaces between the documentary and the browsed. The documentary in this case being that which is used to represent a generalised image of a person or place (His George Bush, Deepak Chopra and so on) and the browsed being those images that cut through a state of constant distraction while trying to find something to punctuate the everyday, the browsed internet or flicked magazine. Is it possible that Richard Phillips truly represents the particular ideological location of American (U.S.) relations to power and desire? Through his ambiguous portrait of George Bush to his desiccated surface image of Rob Lowe we are not confronted with a blown-out relativism but an even-handed and devoted technical approach to images that are super-ordinary rather than generic. The difference between the everyday and the ordinary as opposed to the generic is crucial here. His images are never symbolic substitutes or allusion to complex power networks. They remain, due to his antiquated painting and drawing technique, subjects of a painting or drawing where the technique of execution cannot be mistaken or confused with that which will do for now. In many cases, artists who have chosen to use evocative or softly challenging imagery have tended to try and make the technique “appropriate” to the subject. In some cases the technique is as deftly alienated from traditional art production as the final image depicted, as in Warhol or Richter’s use of painting techniques that suffice to show their equally alienated relationship to the images they have chosen. In other cases the artist picks a belaboured or sloppy technique in relation to the decision to use quotidian imagery in order to emphasise the tension between work and banality. In Richard Phillips case the work is neither ironic nor alienated from that which is depicted. Rather, he presents an implicated distraction technique in relation to his approach both to the choice of images and the mode of representation. In this way, the fact that he paints or draws rather than making a film or building or a place to sit and think is of little importance. This work sits alongside the way imagery is created in order to push forward the narrative in a film. Or a book jacket that reinforces and over time starts to represent a simultaneous reality in relation to the text within. Or a propaganda poster that represents an image of a projection of an ideology that is not embraced but imposed but nevertheless embodies a deep reflection of a co-opted value system that is turned upon those who slowly built it up in the first place (Socialist Realism). This makes the work extremely complicated and moves it away from the initial concern that it might have something in common with the everyday honest banality of super-realism and the narcissistic honesty of Chuck Close for example. The work operates in a very contemporary arena of denuded ideology, neurotic banality and a disinterested display of depersonalised non-eroticism. We cannot find any succour in the work. We know that George Bush is an idiot but Phillip’s image of the President is both confirms and denies this simultaneously.

We are dealing with the implicated image. The image that cannot float free and exist in a semiautonomous sphere of meaning. This is partly due to the low level of compositional potential within the subjects that Richard Phillips chooses. The subject is squeezed into the frame, cropped close and forefronted. We are therefore denied the potential satisfaction of the slow reveal or the obscured image that gradually pulls into focus. These are not paintings and drawings of iconic images that have been appropriated from elsewhere but they are paintings and drawings of images that have been completely consumed and reprocessed. Once Phillips has made use of his sources he has made sure that they have entered into a new level of separation from the context they emerged from in the first place. We best confront such manifestations of the half-known from a position of distraction. Best encountered while thinking about something else, for they soon drain all critique from the short-term memory of the viewer. Best seen while talking about someone else. It is work that operates well as a backdrop or in the context of other art. These are the times when the peculiarity of his image choice and rendition is heightened and complicated in relation to the context. And it is certainly the case that the ideal way to perceive the particularity of his choices and decisions, in terms of technique and image, is outside the institutional space. It is often stated that there is work that is always best seen in a specific context. With Phillips’ work it is usually best to come across it in a distracted environment. Where glancing up for a second we are in a position to perceive that delaminated relationship to image, propaganda and deracinated neo-eroticism.

It is therefore reasonable to place the work into a series of scenarios. This is a difficult task but appropriate in this case. There has to be a way beyond the disinterested yet implicated position of the work within the culture. In Atlanta, Georgia. On the way home. In a hotel lobby or better in the room, reflected in the window as you look out across one of the three downtowns. Better. Sitting in a station in Tbilisi, flicking through a magazine. Coming across an image for a moment. And then losing its original location as you try desperately to catch sight of it again, flipping the pages rapidly then slower, running them past your thumb. No time, you leave the magazine on the bench as you run for the train. Seen in the middle of the night as you wake up without any warning or reason and see a drawing in the glow of a digital clock. Glanced for a second among other art in a storage or in the process of being delivered. Seen through a Plexiglas screen or just behind some rudimentary beds made of yellow paper.

So we are left with absolute stability and a flow of positions that can only come into play once the work is recontextulised into a temporary void surrounded by other people’s stories. Richard Phillips has followed an intuitive line (on one level). Picking images and ideas that complicate all other images that surround them. We are prepared for propaganda. We think we know its codes. Yet the combination of issues here, including bland narcissism, elegantly rendered sexual humiliation, dumb stylisation, mute political faces, self-help gurus and ever-stilled nature reminds us to be vigilant about the images which filter into the culture and form a new post-Lacanian library of anxiety, desire and indifference. The peculiar issue here is Phillips degree of focus on these things. It is not a rigorous endgame of regurgitated banality but a specifically chosen set of false trails and a lovingly reprocessed expression of the non-real. No sentimentality. No irony. No didacticism and instead a shattered mirror of lost trails reconfigured within the reflection that has been replaced by a carefully wrought, painted and drawn diagram of a what-the-fuck present.

May 2006