As you readers know, Dec 9th has always been about finding art everywhere, from Los Angeles to Beijing. Sticking to the notion that art is truly international, we were lucky enough to sit down with a star from just across the Atlantic, London’s Benjamin Phillips, who constructs work with collage mediums from the very streets he works within. His pieces touch on the cyclical nature of the world we happen to live in and with, allowing us to question, in the abstract, what we are actually doing with our lives. Phillips was recently showcased early this Fall at Saatchi’s The Other Art Fair, in Bristol. We had a little time to catch up with him, to speak out personal growth, creativity, and the inspiration of London.
While many of our readers may be familiar with you, I enjoy giving artists the chance to introduce themselves on their own terms. Who are you? What is your art?
I am Benjamin Phillips a mixed media artist from London obsessed with street imagery, urban walls and the history they contain. My Art is an exploration, dissection and re-imagination of my urban surroundings.
You say on your site that your art is born from frustration and the balancing act you do to both manifest it and dispel it-- why do you choose to showcase this frustration the way you do? Why do you use it as such a prime muse in your work?
I graduated 17 years ago with a fine art degree but with no real direction to my art or ability to channel my creativity – I think looking back I was too immature to able to pursue a career in the art world and I needed to earn money to live so settled for an office job in finance in the City of London (after a lucky break). I felt like a tortured soul but got too caught up in that life – drinking and chasing money but it meant nothing to me all I wanted to do was create – its hard to describe the feeling but I was trapped. I had of course always kept up my painting during this time, creating for friends and family but more importantly I was becoming almost subconsciously influenced by my surroundings – the posters, walls, decay and colors of these streets I begrudgingly trudged every day and night to sit for hours just wanting to be creating. I was almost becoming my own metaphor of this – slowly decaying and breaking down. After a health scare I decided to channel all of this and use it as my inspiration to pursue the art I truly loved and the style you see now. I started my first studio from home initially and used my daily working life to develop as an artist. Frustration became my weapon – I would gather collage on my commute, photograph interesting walls, document colors, smells, moods, locations and build a journal of thoughts and ideas. Then in the evenings and weekends I was creating for me – developing techniques, experimenting and more importantly I was happy. Living a life of opposites had become my greatest asset.
You do a fantastic job naming your work, often the titles themselves have a double meaning, which to some can come off as political. Do think that's a valid observation?
For me a works title is very important it takes a viewer directly into the mind of the artist before they have explored the piece for themselves. I’ve never really understood a work being ‘Untitled’ or a number. Sometimes I have even created a piece around its name. I am constantly documenting and writing in sketchbooks and journals – so I have pages of phrases and titles that have come to me at that time and place (I never go out without even a little notebook and pen). A title leads the viewer along my path before they take their own so if for example a work is based around scandal newspaper headlines the title will refer straight to the heart of the topic I wanted to highlight and with me being influenced by the City physically and emotionally its hard to ignore politics and events. If you look at the collage items in a given piece they were all collected at a specific point in time so reflecting the events taking place at that time – like a time capsule of City life.
People often put excellent craftsmen, such as yourself, on a technical pedestal, but even the best can be very critical of themselves. In what space do you want to improve in, both in the technical aspect and content aspect of your work?
Most artists I know and speak to are like me and are never completely satisfied with a work so I am constantly striving to improve and be better in every aspect of my work.
Being a mixed media artist and not stuck with one medium I am still constantly experimenting and looking to introduce myself to new materials, techniques and materials but without losing sight of what I do best and my distinct style. In terms of content, there are several themes that run through my work and distinct styles within styles and I feel now I probably need to be more focused and I do think that’s started especially with my current series which is really drilling down into the layers of street imagery, urban decay and their traces of history.
From what I know, every artist is a dreamer. What's the current big dream, or dreams, you're working to make tangible?
My ultimate dream is for people, (especially my peers) to see a work of mine and say ‘That’s a Benjamin Phillips’. I don’t think this is an unrealistic goal as I know how hungry for success and recognition I am – I live to create and truly believe I was born to become a name within the artwork and leave my mark on this planet.
Everything I have strived for so far with my art I have achieved – initially this begun with creating work for myself that I loved and enjoyed as opposed to a commission for someone else’s idea to suit their home. Then I hoped to maybe achieve recognition of this by someone wanting to own one. Then have my own dedicated studio as opposed to my home studio – and maybe be able to show and discuss my work. Now in a relative short space of time I work from my own studio in London - I have sold to a diverse range of collectors across the globe, given numerous interviews and had articles written. I have taken part in group exhibitions and Art Fairs and been selected as Saatchis ‘Must See’ artist of 2017. My next immediate goal is a solo exhibition and to continue to partner with worthy curators such as Dec 9th. I need to never lose sight that the single most important thing is my work, being dynamic, unique and creative.