Benjamin Phillips


Written by Ellie Wallis
17 Wednesday 17th March 2010

It’s hard to swing a cat in London without hitting talented new artists. After swinging mine around Brixton Market, I discovered the arts collective Artinavan who are resident there until 11 April

Their group showcases work by artists, poets, filmmakers, musicians and other talented souls including Benjamin Phillips. His mainly pen and watercolour drawings mix children’s book illustration with a dark sinister poetry to create images that beguile the viewer whilst entertaining. 

As described in the The Rise of the Shop Window Gallery article, I decided to act the Recessionista and snap up what prints I could get my hands on and speak to the multi-talented Mr Philips to find out more.

Where do you live?

I recently moved up to London and now I'm living in Camberwell with a bunch of friends from Brighton. It's a big Georgian terrace house, 9 bedrooms over 5 stories and there are 10 of us.  It's like a little commune of handsome young people.

Describe your typical day.

Typical day usually starts with my radio alarm clock going off around AM and hopefully I've dragged myself out of bed by 9.30. I clean myself and eat something then get to work at 10.15.  Some days I hate being at my desk so I'll work on the sofa in the living room. I'll draw or paint for a couple of hours or so then eat something, draw some more, eat something. This tends to go on for 6 hours or more. Some sort of break should happen during the afternoon; maybe I'll cycle to the Southbank and meet a friend for a coffee or go to Peckham for some grocery shopping.

I like going to places where there are animals. Last Monday I went to a farm in Crystal Palace, then on the Tuesday I went to Hackney City Farm. There's some great big fat ginger pigs there, they collapse and pass out if you scratch them behind their ears. Be warned those pigs produce a lot of scurf; your hand will be contaminated. The day ends back home where I'll eat some more and am likely to drink some beer.

What do you enjoy most about being an artist? And what is the worst thing?

Best thing: I suppose it's producing the work that I want too, and if people like it that's brilliant.

Worst thing: Working alone, I like my own space but when everyone's out and it's just me in a room, all day long, working on one stupid little picture, it makes me re-evaluate what I'm doing with my life. Though that feeling usually subsides after getting some fresh air, though saying that, fresh air is a rare commodity in South London.

Who do you admire?

I admire a lot of people, people who are driven and don't chose the easiest path.  Someone I admire within the art world would have to be Saul Steinberg. He travelled a lot and managed to produce amazing work throughout his whole life.  It seems like he had an exciting and productive existence, he's a massive inspiration to me.

What music are you into and tell us about your band?

I have to confess I listen to a lot of depressing music: Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, John Martyn. Mainly dead white guys. Though of late I've been listening to Cocteau Twins, Beach house, Andrew Bird, Gerry Rafferty and Vic Chestnutt - not that melancholy but still pretty low key. Though I don't listen to sombre music all the time, I rebel every few days and will listen to something with a bit more balls to it.  I'm quite happy to listen to Dead Prez's Let's Get Free' album from front to back, it makes me want to go get aggro at a policeman.
I play with a band called Alma Mahler and we tend to play folk rock music, surprisingly enough it's pretty melancholy.  I write and sing in the band and my two friends. Sim and Mike, are the talented musicians who can actually play instruments.  Our friend John records and produces us. He does a lot to be credited for.

What do you do for fun apart from make art?

I go to the cinema; I like playing games like squash and bowls. I like going to the pub and love seeing live music. Dog walks are great too; think I might put up some posters advertising myself as a walker of dogs. I don't do that enough these days. London has a lot of great museums and galleries to keep you busy. Right now there's an exhibition of Mexican prints on at the British Museum and it is fantastic.

What’s your take on young artists today? How do you get noticed?

There seems to be a hell of a lot of young artists on the scene at the moment as there are too many art courses that leave young people thinking they can make a career out of scribbling on paper. But the truth is there's not enough work. Most people should give up and get an office job with a boss that constantly belittles them.

I think the best way to get noticed is to keep producing new work, keep putting it online, enter as many competitions and contribute to print fairs and exhibits as much as you can. Try not to feel disheartened if nothing comes up straight away, as work will fluctuate a lot. There are a lot of great artists out there and I hope they don't give up too easy. And keep chasing up housing benefits; they don't want to give you any money you have to nag it out of them.

Describe one of the best moments of your life.

That’s a tough question. Took a long time for something to really stick out as an honest answer. I'd have to say it was the look on Mother's face when I gave her a brand new red Mercedes Benz with a massive bow on it. She was so pleased. 
The other great time in my life was a few years ago I had a friend who walked from John O'Groates to Land's End and I joined him for a week up in Scotland. We were walking 25 miles a day in some of the most beautiful landscape I've ever seen. We had 20 minutes of rain throughout the whole stint and I met some lovely people along the way. That was great, haven't felt that healthy in a while.  Bit of a corny answer though, sorry.
Where can we see and buy your art?

My work is sold in a few boutiques around London but you can always go on my website and get in touch with me if you're interested in obtaining a print or some original artwork. 

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  • Guest: oleg.pulemjotov
    Mon 22 - Mar - 2010, 20:48
    one of those "haters" is actually a "liker" - it was just a little hand-eye miscalculation