Art in America Article
John Phillips at Bodybuilder & Sportsman - Chicago - Brief Article
Art in America, May, 2002 by Susan Snodgrass
Painter John Phillips is a consummate formalist and a bit of a sentimentalist. Throughout his career, Phillips has mined the history of abstract painting, working with a visual vocabulary that pays homage to artists like Ellsworth Kelly, Brice Marden and Barnett Newman, while simultaneously imbuing abstraction with his own offbeat lyricism.
A fusion of Pop and minimalist sensibilities, Phillips's paintings embrace bright, idiosyncratic colors, cool surfaces, bold lines and flat shapes. Past works often contained the artist's signature scroll or ribbon motif, rendered as black, serpentine grids against expansive monochromatic planes. In four new paintings comprising his recent solo show, ribbons give way to a system of lines and ovoid shapes contained within large geometric fields of color. Although not officially part of the show, some earlier works were on view in the gallery's back room, including one "ribbon" painting and five small panel pieces whose tactile surfaces, built from thin layers of oil and wax, are punctuated by calligraphic arcs and cartoony squiggles.
Phillips first composes his arrangements using design software, then executes them in oils on rectangular canvases and circular panels. Although his compositions retain the flatness of the computer screen, they are transformed into dynamic explorations of color and perception. In each, the artist's quirky, geometric forms are interconnected by a network of colorful, sinuous lines that function both as grids and as optical foils that disrupt the pictorial space. In Back Talk (2002), a series of irregular spheres rendered in a limited range of soft grays is contrasted with a field seamlessly painted in gradations of the same hue. Within this restrained palette, subtle and not so subtle differences emerge from the same set of colors; light gray on top of dark gray creates a sense of illusionistic space, while image and background painted in similar tonalities reinforce the flatness of the picture plane. A Day-Glo green line linking the spheroid forms adds movement and heightens the formal tensions at play.
Similar investigations are carried out in Having Little Heart Attacks for You (2001), in which bubblegum-pink pods and luscious red wiggles form staccato notations within a rectangular field of ivory and cream, and in an untitled work from 2002, where odd ovals rendered in shades of coral, beige and peach occupy a pale blue ground. Phillips's deceptively simple paintings, always pleasing to the eye, deftly balance color, form and space, reflecting the artist's impassioned reverence for his medium and subject.
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From Bodybuilder and Sportsman press release
Known for his intensely colored work investigating issues of perception and the figure/ground dilemma, Phillips's new work moves beyond his abstracted and trademark ribbons to forms that continue to challenge the serious issues of the painting tradition and are even more colloquial.
Slang--a kind of language occurring chiefly in casual and playful speech, made up typically of short-lived coinages and figures of speech that are deliberately used in place of standard terms for added raciness, humor, irreverence, or other effect. ‹The American Heritage Dictionary
It's a pretty hilarious notion to imagine anyone would ever make the pronouncement "painting is dead." The remark is so sober its profundity could only ever be rendered false. This truth was made clear quite recently when Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, claimed irony to be dead after the events of September 11, only to back peddle a few weeks later after the thoughtful response to the tragedies by the satirical newspaper, The Onion, gave the public permission to temper its grief with humor.
Certainly painting as a fine-art genre carries with it the heavy burden of art history, and it is the contemporary painter's task to make his or her practice relevant to the current moment. It's a perplexing project for the artist in the face of contemporary culture's penchant for levity and litheness. Through the course of his career, Chicago painter John Phillips has tackled this project employing the vocabulary of minimalism, abstraction, and color-field painting to create objects that resonate within the complexity of his chosen medium yet evince the ethereal, intellectual, and irreverent concerns of new art.
Phillips's attitude is most aptly found is his abstracted representations, most often, in the past, seen as banners and ribbons. In his new body of work, the forms in the compositions come across as even goofier than the vacuous ribbons--fat, awkward conduits of color that dare the viewer to find the sobriety of the painter's practice.
It's here that Phillips's accomplishments as a practitioner of a time-honored tradition come forward as the viewer becomes transfixed by the object and its authenticity becomes ever more clear. This is painting that is seriously cool.
John Phillips received his an MFA in 1979 from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and was a Whitney Fellow in 1978. He has had solo exhibitions at I-Space, N.A.M.E., Dart Gallery and Marianne Deson Gallery in Chicago. Phillips's work has also been seen in numerous group shows including "Art in Chicago, 1945 1995" at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, "In Full Effect" at White Columns, New York, and "Critical Perspectives" at P.S. 1 in New York. Phillips is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts, Visual Artist Fellowship, in Painting, and two Illinois Arts Council grants.
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