The British Are Coming

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Plattsburgh State Art Museum
State University of New York College at Plattsburgh


Peter Phillips, Leo Location, 1970 (detail)
Phillips’ work represents perhaps the closest visual and stylistic alliance with US Pop. His tightly rendered prints place images from mechanical schematics, Scientific American diagrams, and pin-up girls against giddy Op-art backgrounds. These irrational juxtapositions create a brilliant strangeness. He had the idea that these visual elements could be interchangeable, like modular parts for a machine, and could be chosen by an art patron to be a part of a commission in which they could order a painting with elements of their own choosing. This notion of the patron as consumer furthers the ideas perpetrated by Lawrence Alloway and other members of the Independent Group that tended to break down the elitist notions about art that existed in pre-war Britain. Both the boundaries between high and low culture and the role of the artist are called into question in the blatantly commercial gesture that Phillips proposed in his Select-O-Mat Variations.
Artwork courtesy of David Powell

Image, Peter Phillips, Leo Location
    The willingness of this generation of British artists to explore new territory and mine all aspects of contemporary existence for their subject matter reflects a profound change in British art which prior to their revolutionary theory and work had reflected the elitist and stultified taste of the gentry. To see the work from this period as an appropriation of American culture re-presented on British turf would be an oversimplification and an insult. The work has been so thoroughly absorbed into the fabric of popular consumer culture that it is easy to forget how radical the original proposal was back in the fifties when it was heretical and considered a form of aggression to consider that popular culture could be worthy of consideration as a source for “fine art”. The freedom from cultural and class distinctions that the work of these artists represents make them significant players in the art history of the second half of the 20th century, paving the way for both a Pop and a postmodern sensibility.
— W. David Powell
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(ARS), Permission for the reproduction of artwork courtesy of Artists Rights Society © 2006 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London.
(PSAM), Artwork from the permanent collection of Plattsburgh State Art Museum.
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