‘Vanitas’ by John Phillips


Haunting hyperreality from Phillips, manipulating light and fading beauty in this experimental print series, a technical tour de force.

At first glance, Vanitas looks back to the mid 19th century – the world of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, the paintings of Henri Fantin-Latour and William Dyce, Swinburne’s Garden of Proserpine. Perhaps we go back even further to Holland in the 17th century. Yet the Vanitas prints emerged from contemporary technical experiments.

John Phillips prints combine photographic and digital techniques with the manipulation of light. This print series ‘Vanitas’ is the culmination of experimental work shown in his 2014 ‘Captive Light’ exhibition. Each of the Vanitas images is a technical tour de force, in which the artist combines up to 1400 image components to imbue his subjects with an eerie hyper-reality.

Phillips’s Vanitas XVII sold out at the 2016 Royal Academy Summer exhibition. It was one of the best selling prints in the show, and aroused considerable interest. There are over 20 prints in the exhibition, some large scale, some small, all reflecting Phillips’ current subject of discarded flowers.

John Phillips (b.1951)  says ‘In a world of increasing proliferation of photographic imagery and the recording of all aspects of our lives, there is a need to reclaim photography as a route to creating startling images. The Vanitas prints seek to reclaim the discarded and overlooked, and look to tradition in Western Art, particularly painting, and the theme of Vanitas – Mortality.’

Exhibition runs until Wednesday 21st December

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