An Interview with Benjamin Phillips
Benjamin Phillips is a young London based artist and illustrator who in 2012 completed a five month artist in residence stay at the Incheon Art Platform in Incheon, South Korea. The Platform is a recently renovated gallery complex which provides studio and living space for Korean and international artists, who showed a collaborative exhibition entitled ‘Wuju Dabang’*-inspired by a story written by fellow Platform artist Lee Pong-about a girl who disappears through a smoke ring. Ben’s contribution consists of a pair of legs disappearing into the ground, eerie shadows painted onto the gallery walls, and multiplying heads floating towards an unknown universe.
Ben’s contribution to the Korean art scene is important because of Korea’s identity with the West. Korean youth culture is developing rapidly as it incorporates Western subculture into its mainstream, yet artists still use very traditional mediums in art. Within that combination of influence a new dialogue is developing, and young artists such as Ben make an important contribution to this exciting new art scene displaying a mutual exchange of Asian and European ideas which is genuine, unassuming, and original.
Ben’s illustrations are mostly drawn in pen and ink, but he also does etchings and paintings in acrylic. His images teeter somewhere on the brink of a ghoulish fantasy, and affectionate portrayals of everyday life with appropriate doses of irony. He has produced work the band Peggy Sue, held exhibitions in the Rag Factory on Brick Lane, as well as holding shows in Glasgow and Brighton where he achieved his first class honors degree in Illustration. His original take on the world have made him a unique addition to area’s artist community, and he is the first European to partake in a collaborative effort with the gallery.
“Korean art is very culture focused. In England there is more of that punk attitude”
We met in the gallery complex where his studio is situated. It is a collection of renovated buildings dating back to the Japanese occupation of Korea, and right next to the quirky China town district- an ideal spot for an illustrator with a keen eye for the idiosyncratic. In his small studio, he shows me sketches of middle aged Korean women in purple Puffa jackets, old men working out on the urban gyms, along with his portrayal of the self-conscious foreigner at the dinner table- seated legs akimbo on the floor. His incisive pictorial displays of every-day Korean life immediately strike a familiar chord with me, and I can’t help but grin at their pertinence. We head to a local Italian restaurant, where we sit amongst the din of clattering plates, and Ben tells me about his fascination of the dark side, when it’s best to be naked, and mysterious worlds through smoke rings.
*a dabang is an archetypal Korean style café- low lit, the air heavy with cigarette smoke, a no questions asked kind of establishment.