In the second part of our interview with Richard Phillips we spoke with him as to why society is obsessed with celebrity culture; Kim Kadarshian’s talent; how his painting method has changed over the past year; and why Warhol's ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ no longer has relevance.
200%: Why do you believe society is obsessed with celebrity culture?
Richard Phillips: As the gap between the wealthy and poor continues to increase, and the large public educational systems remove any notion of art from their curricula, a vacuum is created that is filled by opportunistic entertainment conglomerates who produce the fantasy of celebrity culture and its exceptional lifestyle separate and unto itself.
200%: How does “the large public educational systems remove any notion of art from their curricula”?
Richard Phillips: The public school systems across the country have systematically cut the budgets for arts education. In the absence of arts education children are left to believe that entertainment systems media constitutes the sum total of art. If the art that is housed in museums gains exposure to this audience it is only in relation to whether it has entertainment celebrity endorsement.
200%: Can you further explain how you consider this illustrate society’s obsession with celebrity culture?
Richard Phillips: Reality programming, in which I myself have been involved via the Bravo television series ‘Work of Art’, shows that the language of art is not immune from this logic. The obsession exists in the careful construction of a psychological potential for irrationally assuming that the one-sided recognition of passively viewing a ‘star’ is somehow shared and amounts to intimacy. This fiction is a powerful one, which leads to the need for compensation in the form of consumable goods that are star-like or seen being worn by stars. Once complete this circuit is like the distorted dopamine receptor of an addict that must be filled again, but with more powerful drugs.
200%: It has been reported by 'The Daily Beast' that "celebrity culture is over". They say that the price for paparazzi photos is down 31 percent; photo budgets of celebrity obsessed magazine 'US Weekly' has fallen from $8m to $5m; and US sales of celebrity-licensed products. e.g. perfumes, are decreasing. Do you see this as signals that celebrity culture is over, or is there a certain celebrity fatigue amongst the public whereby it's in a waning phase as celebrity fascination is always with us to a greater or lesser extent?
Richard Phillips: There are bound to be periods of over celebrification. Fatigue occurs when the production of the form exceeds demand. The specialization of blogs, websites and now Twitter is to distribute the minutiae of needless information about every A to D-listed star. At a certain point attrition and consolidation are inevitable, as in any marketplace. The backlash is articulated at present in the propulsion of the non-celebrity celebrities of reality productions, for they increase the potential that the next superstar may be in fact ourselves. Warhol's fifteen minutes no longer has any relevance and seems as quaint as twenty-cent gallon of gas.
200%: What is your view about people like Kim Kardashian of whom it has been said "don’t need any talent whatsoever to be able to become a celebrity".
Richard Phillips: Kim Kardashian's talent IS the production of celebrity itself. Those who say that she has no talent are hanging on to an antiquated idea that equates a conventional separation of celebrity being the result of a distinctively recognized set of accomplishments. Her ability to understand the reductive constituent components of what it takes to create and maintain the full-time presence of celebrity is what sets her apart from all reality personalities and has placed her in context with those who achieved celebrity through older methods.
200%: Do you consider that your understanding of painting has developed further (increased depth of knowledge) in the last few years? Have you become more proficient in photorealism, or painting flesh tones?
Richard Phillips: Over the past year and a half my painting method has changed in some specific ways.
Rather than developing an image from a charcoal drawing, I've switched to pastels because it allows me to focus on color and drawing at the same time in preparation for my painting. The advantage of this change is the immediacy pastels create to my subjects and the move away from photographic imitation. In the construction of my paintings I have worked with the paint maker Robert Doak and the printing studio Axel Fine Arts in Brooklyn to come up with a way of technically screening my composite images in paint onto a traditional ground. I therefore start from a photo silk screened grisaille which is ready to accept the final stage of my painting. This dramatically reduces the time a painting takes to create and makes the process more responsive.
Since it is, in effect, painting out an existing photographic image, it is precisely anti-photorealistic and entirely sensibility based. This accounts for a greater sense of presence of flesh like our own.
200%: John Currin told me that "you're very good at finishing paintings". Can you describe how you know when and / or how to finish a painting?
Richard Phillips: As one of my paintings moves toward conclusion, the options for changes decrease to the point where the painting literally turns the corner and starts rejecting further effort. If I go past that point, adding or changing anything forces me to immediately backtrack and reestablish what was the finished state. This was very much the case with the last painting of the group, Dakota Fanning. That point came when I was working on the last section of her hair, and after nine previous paintings, I knew unquestionably that it was time to stop.
Interview written and conducted by Thierry Somers, with contribution by Marie Drysdale.
Paintings: Richard Phillips, Zac Efron, 2010, Oil on Linen, 95 x 78 in. (241.3 x 198.1 cm), © the artist, Courtesy White Cube