Rachel Phillips: Animated Emotion

“He Said What?” Microscope Gallery, Sept 6- Oct 13, 2019

“Sad Frog” (2019)

These paintings remind me of my passion for cartoons as a child. The emotions are so pure. A character is sad; they slump, utterly dejected, or cry a single tear (or an ocean). When mad, a red cloud of steam appears above their head. If scared they hide and a single eye peers out.
I don’t have to guess—no repression and no cloying sentimentality like the world of adults—ugh.

Of course Phillips has also complexified the situation, as a cartoon character might remark, with an array of painting techniques that swoop, splash, starting, stopping and sometimes fizzling out in a way that suggest she lost interest or despaired.
Sad Frog contains the sad, the mad and the scared. Well, that’s the thing about pure emotion: it’s so fluid, at least it was (is?) for me. Unbearably sad one moment, and the next you could buy me off with an ice cream cone.

 

“Prince of Hearts, Queen of Spades” (2017)

Prince…is a little different. Actually all of the paintings are different. The Queen of Spades dominates, lifted off a playing card. She embodies the unknowable world of adult emotions. She is fixed, static and the painter has done everything possible to animate the rest of the canvas and mitigate her intractable grief with other anthropormorphic images and gaily colored objects like the yellow ramp. The blue guy at the top, the character with the dopey smile bottom right, the comic cloud, even the little prince—all hoping to cheer her up and without a chance in hell of a good day if they can’t.

“HairDo” (2019)

HairDo  is the simplest of the paintings, but not simple to decipher. One character I’ll call a woman looks at a little guy who seems to be growing out of her own hand. It is very clever how she balances the nose on her forefinger. The puppet has a wide-eyed look of “I’m just being me” and the woman who is also all eyes is taken aback, surprised, sad or doubtful—whether for her own sake or the puppet’s is unclear. The painting is broken up into geometric shapes of different colors. This is characteristic of other paintings as well.

 

“Bananas” (2016)

These different shapes are painted in a variety of techniques. They force me to look at each area individually which is in conflict with making sense of the interactions between the figures. This painting which I cannot say I like has beautifully painted surfaces: the transparent pink, the hot pink horizontal stutter— my photo doesn’t capture the intensity of the blue water/ocean dripping from above or the fleshiness of the fleshtone. The solidity of these shapes is contradicted by the banana lips and the careless eye. I wouldn’t have talked about Bananas at all except that looking at this collage of colors gave me a jolt of isolation and No Exit and it seems important to take note of a painting that can do that.

 

“Lion” (2013)

Lion is unusual in the series for having a ground of a single color. Objects are placed on it and define the space more or less as a flat receding plane. Two characters are fraught with anxiety: one wrings its hands and has bad dreams that flow into the surrounding space, the other is a self-contained ball of worry. I cannot define the black object with gold trim, possibly a saddle or a shoe. The fallen flower, expressionistically painted is animated too. I can kind of imagine it hopping over to a tap and filling its own vase with water.

“Lion” (detail) (2013)

And as you can see this detail is painted in a very different way, a sloppy mess of the interior of the cup, which relates to the sloppy shadow above and very carefully painted hair-thin stems with trompel’oeil flowers. This cup is placed on a triangle of color. It is as if the painter is inventing every area of the canvas and leaving it to the viewer to make an uneasy sense of the whole.

On review, I’m not sure this is a review, it seems to be more like a series of projections. But hasn’t Phillips invited me to make them?

—CNQ