Philip Colbert talks about the process of art as important as the process of 'distilling a whisky' using 'identifiable symbols [which] develop my world, of the every day but also touched by an insightful idea'. The insightful idea has been around for a while, Warhol, Liechtenstein, Duchamp originally used this age old idea of distorting the meaning of a generic symbol so much that a viewer recognises it as an object d'art in its own right. Colbert's eggs, lobsters, and ornamental pop art adorn everything from prams to a car. He is particularly interested in creating work that will inform the world around him, gradually skewing your surroundings until you are immersed in his art work itself. Clearly Sonia Delauney is an important abstract figure for Colbert, ‘That Image of her with a car and a dress which represents the holistic everyday idea’ he sighs dreamily. It is Colbert’s Rodnik Band which makes money helping to reinvest in concept projects which are closer to his heart and the ‘holistic’ element he strives for. His 'Wearable art' is one that produces the revenue making it possible to follow his other passions. Clothing is mobile, like Alexander Calder, which he calls ‘the ultimate democratic art’ but the fashion world side of it doesn’t seem to interest him in the slightest. 'It [fashion] is like the weather, a machine- very corporate' and he prefers to think of it as developing clothing as a medium itself like a canvas rather than specifically for the ‘fashion’ industry. Rather than 'unsociable fashion crap' which 'jades people' it engages people when it's ''art'' ; taking the platform of art out of a gallery.
Colbert is very likeable, he talks about developing clothing because he had horrific dress sense and, wanting to improve it he just made his own. He was branded too goofy by one photographer who was keen for him to become a depressed cartoon of what an artist might be like in LA. Much easier to understand in America perhaps but which couldn’t be further from Colbert’s natural demeanour. This is a Scotsman whose Columbia Road studio is a fantastical model of the yellow submarine and whose love of surrealism means that he understands art as a form of escapism which many people would identify with I imagine. ‘It's completely fantastical, the value of art is access you give the viewer to the space you've created.’ Indeed he will be creating a virtual space in a new video game he is working on, art and technology side by side. Not controlled by technology however, on social media he is astute; ‘people should spend half the time that they spend on social media just doing, so much more would get done.’
What of the concept of brand art? 'Art is a business, a system, one can get high and mighty but it is a business' states Colbert baldly...'anchored in the notion of art' he adds as an afterthought. Clearly the value of art is idea/concept but with Colbert it is also his name attached to it that adds a huge amount of value. This is clearly a compliment, but also something to tread carefully around in our modern age. There could be a tendency to produce to a standard less than what one is capable of, Hockney's iPad drawings are an example of this. The relevance of Colbert’s work is reminiscent of the flickering images passing in front of us every day. According to Colbert 'pop art is more important in this age of social media than ever before', his brand as a vehicle to communicate, which he argues, was only ‘touched upon’ in the 60’s. With Tate Modern knocking at his door to be part of their exhibition ‘The World Goes Pop’, it seems they agree and not just Tate. Mickey Mouse and Disney are next as is Rolex and BMW, a hotel in Hoxton Square and a chess set just to begin with.
Having studied philosophy at university his ‘one maxim for living is to live in a way [he] won't regret. The wonderful possibility of distilling an idea, to find it's very bones then use it in a repetitive mass production to fund other enterprises is clearly one which appeals to Colbert. Hirst did it with dots, butterfly's and formaldehyde and has since funded the collection of art spanning more than 3000 works and a huge new gallery space in Vauxhall. Is this the idea? The business which was a passion to fund the passion which becomes a business? What's next for the Philip Colberts outfit? Are his ideas original or clever or just monetising schemes or all of the above. Whatever he is doing its certainly 'distilling iconic symbols' and the whisky of ideas he is producing is to the taste of a very large crowd of admirers.
Written by Beatrice Hasell-McCosh
Editorial Assistant at Arteviste.com