Phil King




Sleeping Beauty

(After Blake)

Acrylic on canvas



Green Painting

Oil on canvas




(After Van Gogh)

Acrylic on canvas





Chris Shaw: There are a lot of references in this show and it's difficult to know where to start, but let's start with Sunflowers (After Van Gogh). I think it's probably true that Van Gogh has been overexposed, especially his Sunflowers series. We find reproductions of them everywhere - on fridge magnets, shower curtains and key rings. Why did you paint Van Gogh's Sunflowers?


Phil King: I find painting paintings of paintings really very interesting, to be honest. There’s a sense also that I have begun somehow to develop a language of sorts with my painting, and I’m interested in painting ‘slang’ versions of classic paintings to see what might happen in between broken down languages. I’m fascinated by the way that paintings can live within us as memories, as feelings almost, and it struck me that Sunflowers is an ultimate example of that, that there is a level of shared abstraction at work already. I was lucky enough to catch the Sunflowers exhibit at the National Gallery when they had two of them on display a few years ago. There was fascinating information there as to how the various hues have faded etc. But also seeing two of them with pictures of the others brought out how they are icons and yet a plural. Painted as part of a decorative scheme and yet so iconic and central on their own now: a kind of faded icon of friendship where the fading itself has become affecting. The paintings are already real drama, part of a certain romance. I love that Gauguin painting of Van Gogh painting a sunflower painting.


How does Van Gogh's handling of paint contrast with your own?


I think that within my interest in painting paintings of paintings is a love of painterly touch. How to access it? With mine you can see that I lost connection to Sunflowers or any subject in the way I paint, it’s a mess really… I was dabbing the wet paint with plastic bags at one point, I even dropped it face down by mistake. The paint becomes a kind of emulsion, and yet there are gestures that count. One reason that I simply stuck the inkjet image of the flowers on was that people could tell what it was.  There’s a sort of giving up going on. It was a disaster really, everything lost in paint. I had a general sense of the possibilities of different yellows. I hope the inkjet will fade in time as the ‘old dead’ fading nature of Vincent’s flowers has always intrigued me and I felt that it became one with the extent of that painting's exposure. I felt that I was painting ‘between paintings’ in a kind of abstraction, thinking about the different yellows for example, the yellow we see and the one Van Gogh used, the reproduced yellow, the different yellows of the different versions all blended into an imaginary yellow, and I looked at the experience of real sunflowers in the fields around Toulouse. All the accidents and details start to feel meaningful after a while. I put a rope frame around it like a ‘marine painting’ to reflect the way that it might put us at sea somehow… though partly the frame was a colour and texture choice.


Old Green Painting shifts attention from Van Gogh to something not quite but nearly as familiar. It looks like a classic European easel painting. Something lovely and lush like a Matisse.


I think familiarity is key to that one really. This is an old painting that I did in my Mother’s garden way back when I had just finished my B.A. I think. I found it in a shed covered in dust. I like the way that this painting of her garden had been in her garden environment forgotten all this time and was amazed at how animated and full of life it now seems. The black and white rectangle was a representation of my childhood cat. Even though a geometric shape it carries all the remembering, like a kind of diagram to be read again after all this time. There’s a kind of Egyptian hieroglyphic aspect like I found a dusty tomb full of treasure.  I’m generally interested in the sense of the old and the forgotten in art, in how things can come back to life.


When I painted it in the '90s, I’d kind of focused on the notion that painting generic ‘School of Paris’ easel paintings was a pretty irritatingly redundant thing to do - really not very progressive in any straightforward sense - but then got really absorbed actually painting in the South of France. I think it’s a good painting and if anything, it’s about that question really: what is a good painting now? How does art come and go? What makes it so immediate? Or not? It feels new so I decided to present it as a new painting, a kind of awkward object… to use the black and white motif at the heart of it as the basis of a new installation.


Sleeping Beauty (After Blake) is dreamy and whimsical, light and sketchy. It depicts a half-nude in slumber surrounded by a strange snake-like hieroglyph. Its title points to an archetypal character in a fairy-tale and also to Blake's Sleep! Sleep! Beauty Bright. Tell me about this one.


The figure is stolen directly from a Blake print in his illuminated book  Innocence and Experience. Blake’s poetic 'universes', his little prints and paintings, always fascinate and challenge me…. ‘what is going on?!’ I had the abstract painting kicking around for a while, a sort of failed accidental Gerhard Richter knock-off… then I painted leaves on it and the sinuous ornamental shape. I found a Blake figure in a book that fitted the canvas perfectly and then basically traced it on. I do like the way it brings a lot of different things together; and the idea of ‘sleeping beauty’ ties into the re-discovery of old paintings. I’ve got old paintings scattered around everywhere - asleep and waiting somehow. They persist as notions and feelings. Then I find them or not. I’ll sometimes pick them up and carry on painting them or simply put them to something new and then forget which came first.


We first unwrapped the three paintings at my house and I thought they looked at home there amongst the high skirting boards and shadowy alcoves. Quite a contrast to how they fitted into the Three Works space with its filtered light, tidy lines and specially painted wall design created at your behest. The wall design provided the paintings with a rather incongruous geometric backdrop, but what is the significance of these Sol LeWitt-like diagonals?


I’m not sure if they reach the status of meaning as such. They create a feeling of a different very visual matrix - they have a kind of in-your-face sort of thing happening. They create a high contrast; a high impact horizon.  I do think they relate to the model ‘camouflage dazzle ship’ on the shelf in the shop next to your little gallery space. They are a kind of dazzle creation to confuse the usual art appreciation target practice in order to put us ‘somewhere else’, in a kind of out of touch zone that begs the question of touch in painting.


I recall a few visitors that came to the opening said they felt quite dazzled and disoriented as they entered the space.


Well, the way we painted it with those strong diagonals had a putting-off-balance effect. The floor isn’t level either so the bold pattern created a little bit of loss of reference. Afterwards, I belatedly realised I had actually created a kind of homage to my Mother’s garden. All three works dealt out for the Three Works show are flower paintings I see now. She lives at the end of the airport runway, the Airbus production line, at Toulouse and these vast huge hyper-modern aircraft hangers and other buildings surround one end of the small town - a genuine hi-tech modernity matrix. There’s no real sense of a place for painting in the area, just a rush towards an efficient un-arguable aerodynamic high-speed future - people seem to live caught by surprise by it all. There are always new roads opening everywhere; I’m always getting lost.  My painted walls become a kind of acceptance of that disorientating modernity, that condition - and the paintings take on a kind of unlikely and arcane resistant force within its chamber, they address our sense of touch in such a smooth visual space. It’s a chamber probably inspired by the Time Tunnel - a 1950s Sci-fi programme I used to watch as a kid.


While we were hanging it, any little change seemed to have a big impact. It felt like you were thinking of a whole sensation and fine-tuning it.


The whole experience takes on some kind of virtual formal consistency or sense of on-going imagination. I kind of think of it like the condition of being on a car ferry, going back and forth across the channel; bad reproductions of familiar paintings on the plastic-lined passenger lounge walls.  The show maybe had that feeling somehow, of being trapped on a ship. It’s how I grew up really, between countries, surrounded by the scale of new industries; kind of disjointed and disorientated, endlessly looking for and creating forgotten touchstones, between familiar languages and national and local rhythms and habits. Going back to the sunflowers I do respond to that sense of them creating a painterly habitat, being a kind of home; a heightened realm of thought to inhabit and rest and take off again - that’s a bit Matisse I suppose, like his famous armchair analogy. I’m interested in what a painting objectively is and hope the show was a kind of event of that - that it had a sort of systematic, maybe slightly cruel, liminal feeling to it - that it was a kind of trap or potential fall into something else… with a sense of things to hold onto.