"On a surface level, I’m interested in pop-cultural iconography. There’s a level of devotion/proliferation we see today that in times past was reserved for a higher power. Philosophically, I’m interested in ‘the absurd’, which in art history terms has been dealt with most famously with the dada movement and later through the surrealists." Phil James is represented by Galerie Pompom (Sydney) and Nicholas Thompson Gallery (Melbourne). His work, Jesus Falls the Second Time, is a finalist in the 2018 Sir John Sulman Prize currently on view at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.
I went to High School from ’88-’94. I guess the most interesting thing was that it was a boarding school. In the movies that’s often seen as some kind of punishment but I had a pretty good time.
You know, I would say my school art teacher inspired me to be an artist. That being said I was a bit of a ratbag. My inspiration to become an artist was more encouraged by my Uncle, Ross. He was always encouraging me to pursue a creative career.
My Teachers’ name was Mr Trick, Philip Trick. In retrospect we gave him hell but he was a cool guy I remember him fondly. I remember clearly he showed us the Surrealist film, Un Chien Andalou. That was pretty wild, I still think about it.
Our class was a pretty motley crew and a really great bunch of guys from all different cliques, it was really cool. It was a bit of a sanctuary. As I said before though, we were a tough bunch to teach so respect to the teachers!! Art at that time in that school was seen as a bit of a bludge, but with that being said we were all there because we had creative spirit. We’d play music n stuff around and try all sorts of different techniques, the facilities were really good and as we progressed through the years we all found and were encouraged to experiment with mediums we were comfortable with.
You know, my influences in art were and largely remain fairly low-brow. I grew up on the coast and I really loved the skate graphics of Jim Phillips for Santa Cruz, and the artists who contributed to Mad Magazine, (the old Mad, the new stuff is shit) like Mort Drucker. That guy was an incredible draftsman and that humour really shaped who I am. A smartass! Lol. One of my biggest influences though was my brother (we collected Mad together n had a huge collection), but he always had really cool taste in everything and I just basically copied him.
A nice thing that happened a few years ago was when I had an exhibition and Mr Trick rocked up!!! It was really nice to chat with him as a peer, it was pretty wild. He’d seen my stuff around and yeah he was really proud, and so was I that he came along, it was really cool.
1. Phil James, artist statement for the Sulman Prize 2018. Originally published on the Art Gallery of New South Wales website.