Art & Culture

Philip Colbert is the Andy Warhol of the Instagram age

Meet the neo-pop surrealist blending the techniques of the old masters with post-internet culture.

If art imitates life, then there couldn’t be more of a synergy than that between Philip Colbert and his paintings. With his signature primary colour suits adorned with slogans and his alter ego of a lobster, the artist is a living, breathing piece of pop art known for adding a touch of surreal humour to London’s social scene over the years.

Working from his warehouse studio in Shoreditch, Colbert is both commentator and protagonist in the increasingly Nathan Barley-esque culture of post-internet life which forms the inspiration behind his latest show at the Saatchi Gallery.

Featuring 25 new large-scale paintings, sculptures and an immersive experience, Hunt Paintings explores the increasing absurdity of our social media and image obsessed age, appropriating the narratives of the old masters with a riot of digital references and colour. We caught up with the artist – a favourite of André Leon Talley and Karl Lagerfeld, to talk about his newest creations.

Hi Philip, what can we expect from your new show at the Saatchi Gallery, ‘Hunt Paintings’?

It’s my largest solo exhibition to date. It’s over three rooms at the Saatchi, and comprises of 25 new large-scale works, mostly paintings and a few new sculptures. In the show I have continued to push my pop painting language, I wanted to achieve epic grand elevated pop compositions, so I further developed the historical thread within the ‘Hunt’ narratives inspired by Reuben’s and a number of additional old masters. Unit London have partnered with Saatchi Gallery to present the exhibition. Co-founded by Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt, Unit London is an amazing, democratic and powerful young gallery with an incredible digital reach and I’m really excited to be working with them on this project.

There’s incredible detail in your pieces and a mixing of so many forms – how do you bring it all together in a singular aesthetic?

I like to think of it as an orchestra of appropriation. For me it’s all about playing with language and pushing the depths and possibilities of painting in a way that reflects the saturation and endless possibilities of pop culture. I spend a lot of time working on the compositions and rework them constantly until I feel all the elements work.

You’ve embraced the digital world and memes in your art – can you see yourself ever working on a fully digital project?

Yes, I am currently creating LOBSTER LAND, an art world where my lobster alter ego lives. I am extremely inspired by the creative opportunists of VR and will be previewing this world at the Saatchi show.

Do you think Andy Warhol predicted the future in many ways?

Yes for sure, social media culture is extremely Warhol. Fame for all has taken hold more than ever. There are lots of potentially very positive creative possibilities, but the challenge is avoiding the negative aspects.

What scares you most about the internet and social media?

The way it seems to be polarising populations and creating dangerous bubbles and the way it’s effecting politics.

You’ve said how you believe in the art of the everyday – do you think the contemporary art world at the moment lacks an anchor to lived reality?

Yes, I think the art world gets lost in itself. That’s why I like to have one foot out of it. For me it all comes down to energy and positive insightful connections with people rather than seeking approval from the system of the art world  

How can art help us navigate the crazy times we are living in?

To remind us that anything is possible and to celebrate freedom

What’s the craziest thing you have done in pursuit of your art?

Becoming a robot Lobster and playing the keyboard alongside a giant cactus robot on drums in my Pop robot jazz concert in an LA art show!

Philip Colbert’s Hunt Paintings runs at the Saatchi Gallery until 13 January 2019 in collaboration with Unit London

4 January 2019