The British pop artist talks emojis, lobster banks and Trump.
Emojis, internet error messages, Trump digs and lobsters. So many lobsters. These are just a few of the fearlessly weird and wonderful references immediately evident in the boundary-pushing work of British pop artist Philip Colbert.
Hailed as the “the godson of Andy Warhol” (such is his influence), at first glance, his work assail the eyes with a tongue-in-cheek barrage of pop culture references. Obsessed.
And now, head to London’s well-loved Saatchi Gallery for his latest body of work, “Hunt Paintings” – encompassing large-scale pieces, gigantic sculptures and yes, even a virtual reality experience. Very Black Mirror.
We caught up with the artist and talked about kitsch references, famous fans (ahem, David Hockney) and his lobster alter ego…
How did you start out?
Art was always the language I most connected with. I graduated with a degree in philosophy, and had studied a lot on the philosophy of art.
You’ve been nicknamed the “godson of Andy Warhol” – what made you want to pursue the pop art style?
I believe that pop language is the most powerful form of language today – it connects the world. If people think we were pop in the 60s, I think we are hyper pop today. We consume more pop culture than ever. These pop themes of the everyday deeply connect with peoples lives and are rich in meaning.
What inspires you?
For me, art is about creating a world. I recently started building LOBSTER LAND, a VR world where my lobster character lives. In this desert world, there is a town with a lobster bank where you can buy Lobster coin, a cactus-shaped house where the lobster lives, and a museum etc.
What is the weirdest reference you’ve ever put into your art?
The super fake kitsch Louis XIV interiors of Donald Trump’s NY apartment.
Your lobster alter ego has become synonymous with your work – can you explain how this came about/what it means?
I was always into symbols, and drew cartoon lobsters as a little caricature of surrealism. I would often draw these as my signature when signing things, and made a embroidered suit with my lobster pattern, and after a while people started calling me the Lobster man. When I started working on the large scale paintings my character really developed and came to life. When I first met my lobster in the VR space and he was breathing, I was really struck by the realisation of an artistic persona. I often tell people I became an artist when I became a lobster.
Is your work a critique or a celebration (of social media/mass consumption etc)?
It’s both a super positive colourful celebration of contemporary hyper-pop democratic language and freedom, with a strong dark shadow of the threats facing pop consumer culture and the modern world. This battle between light and dark is the key theme in my work.
What do you want people to take away from your art or feel after they’ve seen it?
I would like to think my work pushes the idea of freedom, and the possibility of the individual to reinvent the world. I try and avoid the serious elitist ideas of art and believe everyone is an artist and can engage with art history.
Do you have any famous fans?
David Hockney has one of my lobster sculptures.
What are some of your daily rituals when making art?
I drink a lot of green tea, and my studio music is super eclectic. I try and keep a very set routine as much as I can as I think that really helps develop ideas.
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
Follow your own path, don’t be afraid to be an outsider, and think long term.
How did the Saatchi show come about?
I first collaborated with Unit London in their ‘Looking for U’ show. The gallery was co-founded by the dynamic duo Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt. The show at Saatchi Gallery is our second project together. Unit London is an amazingly democratic and powerful young gallery with an incredible digital reach.
What’s next for you?
This year I have a series of shows in Asia. I will he showing at Art Basel HK and have a solo show at Whitestone Gallery in HK in May. Followed by my biggest museum show yet with Wavelength in Shanghai this June and an exhibition in November at Multi Media Arts Museum in Moscow.
Philip Colbert ‘Hunt Paintings’, Presented by Unit London at Saatchi Gallery and is on until 13 January