Modern Masters

Pop culture and high art are unexpected sparring partners in the work of Philjames. Vault checks in with the Sydney artist whose practice owes as much to Tyler Durden as it does to Marcel Duchamp.

By Tai Mitsuji OCT 2017

Philjames doesn’t want to make art; he wants to remake it. Under his careful hand, famous paintings are given new life, as he takes iconic masterpieces and inserts a splash of pop culture into them. Sifting through his unapologetic anachronisms, I’m confronted by art that is simultaneously recognisable yet foreign: Jesus holds a ray gun, Mary caresses a slime monster, and Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Boy (1770) dons the Captain Crunch hat. For the Sydney-based artist, popular culture holds as much weight as high art.

The ease and playfulness of Philjames’ art feels familiar to the child inside any gallery-goer. As we discuss the origins of his work, the reason for such sentiments soon becomes clear. “As a kid, I loved drawing on Mum’s magazines, which drove her mad,” he recalls, laughing. “Colouring in the model on the front: giving her a moustache or blacking out her teeth.” In many ways, Philjames’ present work is the natural continuation of these doodlings. In his art, one finds an appealing irreverence that speaks to our younger selves and transports us back to a time when satire could be achieved with a marker and some wit. While his practice obviously owes a great debt to Dada and artistic titans like Marcel Duchamp, it also remains very much indebted to his youth.

When I ask Philjames to describe his practice, he does not point to an esoteric theorist, but rather a cult film. “[My work] is like that scene in Fight Club, where Edward Norton beats the shit out of Jared Leto,” he says. “Everyone is like ‘why did you do.. Subscribe to read this article in full

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