Brad Phillips at The Residence Gallery

Filed in Reviews by on May 12, 2011

Brad Phillips
Suicide Note Writer’s Block
The Residence Gallery
November 4th – December 18th 2011


The Residence Gallery is a smart little space on the much gentrified Victoria Park Road, on route there I walked past expensive looking gastro pubs, organic delis and those hybrid knitwear/cupcake shops; the kind of places that make you wonder “how the hell are they staying in business?” I was having these rather mordant thoughts as I approached the gallery where I was confronted with a sandwich board standing on the pavement outside. Italic white writing on a black background proclaimed “CALL 911”. It immediately made me think of that Wclef Jean and Mary J Blige song from the late 90’s (or was it the early 00’s??) “Someone please call 911, tell them I just bin shot down…” I rejected the thought of this tongue-in-cheek melodramatic RnB classic as I entered the gallery, but maybe I shouldn’t have.

Brad Phillips is a Canadian painter and photographer whose sparse deliberately composed images speak about intimate moments, reverie and desire. But Phillips also has a cheekily subversive sense of humour which seems to permeate most of his work. Even the title of the exhibition “Suicide Note Writer’s Block” speaks of an underlying dark sense of humour, a kind of grimly smiling Catch-22. The exhibition consists of 9 oil paintings neither small nor monumental in size. There is a mixture of figurative and text paintings. The paintings expose little snippets of the artist’s life painted in a photo realistic style. Phillips’ work achieves an autobiographical edge through a complex relation between text and image, title and work, depiction and narrative.

The Resident Gallery is good space, but there is always going to be difficulty in curating a solo painting show in a way that will be visually exciting. They have made an effort though. Two walls of the gallery have been painted a deep burgundy which made me recall the differing colours used in the wings of the National Gallery differentiating medieval from renaissance work. On observing Phillip’s paintings it occurs to me that this is not unintentional. There are definitely nods to art history here, most noticeably with a monochrome oil painting of a gloved hand holding a cigarette which is simply (and dryly) entitled “Composition”.

And then there are the text paintings. Personally I love text paintings. Give me a Richard Prince over a Mark Rothko any day of the week. Give me something to read and relate to. The use of text will always force the viewer to create a narrative. It is impossible to leave the Brad Phillip’s exhibition without a sort of sense of the artist’s personality. The power of the paintings is furthered by the associative relationship that they have to others in the space. A painting of a girl in the yoga “crab” position entitled “Erin Bending Backwards For Me” is exhibited alongside a painting of a girl facing away from the viewer entitled “Erin Turning Her Back On Me”. One black canvas displaying the familiar red numbers of a digital clock reading “3:04” is titled “Twice A Day or Insomnia”. The viewer is never given enough detail to form a coherent narrative, but seen together, these works suggest a life – and a portrait of the artist. I left the gallery feeling that I knew Brad Phillips; knew about his insomnia, knew about his challenging relationship with this woman called Erin, knew about his suicidal thoughts. Whether or not these paintings are confessional is irrelevant. I left the gallery with a sense of knowing a person, and I only wanted to know more.

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Beth Fox

About the Author ()

Beth Fox is an artist, writer and independent curator. She has recently exhibited work at Divus Gallery, London, Sluice, London, Angus-Hughes Gallery, London, the Horse Hospital, London and the Bunkhouse Gallery, Madrid. She was born in Ireland and lives and works in London. More information at:

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