Whitehot Magazine

July 2009, Whitehot @ the Mac Cosmetics/ Richard Phillips Event in New York

Photo credit, all images: Benjamin Norman


I tracked down Richard Phillips at the M.A.C Fall 2009 Launch Party for a discussion about his inclusion in such an event. The organization had commissioned the artist to create artwork based on a selection of colors from the autumn palate that would be utilized in conjunction with their advertising campaign all over the country. Richard generated several digital prints based off of Der Bodensee (2008), an image of an upside-down prostitutional beauty shot against a serene snow-kissed landscape, that was featured in New Museum, his latest exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in May 2009. The artist provided a bit more insight into how his imagery doesn’t contradict in the sphere of fashion, even while it warrants the subtly paradoxical notions it presents.

Lynn Maliszewski: Not to start off too brash in quoting you immediately but...

Richard Phillips: Well you can. I stand by everything I say, even if it’s really contradictory.

LM: You claimed “an exhibition put up right now that does not address the critical situation we are facing just becomes paintertainment.”

RP: Yes.

LM: How do you find yourself straying away from this or making sure you don’t fall into this category?

RP: With this particular collaboration?

LM: Yes, with this and also in general, considering what you’re working on and seeing it in foresight.

RP: Right, I understand your question. For me, it’s the repurposing of this particular image which originally came from an erotic porn blog. It was an image of a young erotic model in an upside down position. So it was a beauty shot for this particular publication. Anyhow, the idea was that it was mimicking fashion. So when M.A.C approached me with the idea of making an image for their line, I decided to repurpose the image of my own painting, which had a completely different trajectory, toward the actual trajectory that the image originally was alluding to. So conceptually, it actually completed an ellipse of what the psychology of the image is intending to project. So in a way it became responsible to itself, it fulfilled its implied desire in a sense. There was another image that was paired with it that was a portrait of Coco Rocha. It was an image that is called an accessory shot. The accessory shot is trying to sell something that is not there like perfume. In this case, it’s trying to sell the body that’s unseen. It’s the shot that’s sexual but it’s not showing the sexual act. So in a way it’s the displacement of the invisible for commercial ends. In each case its selling desire, desire of a certain sort. When I began working on the project with M.A.C, it was very interesting to me to see how the projection of this kind of image could go out into a much larger context in dealing with people. When we wear makeup, in men or women, it’s often to induce or to encourage intimate situations or make those more exciting by creating a new face. So the repurposing of the image was in a way to kind of fulfill the desire, the idea of how desire gets purposed not only in an artistic sense or a psychological sense or critical sense, but within the limit of commercial potential. Which in a way is fulfilling millions of people’s potential desire or is giving them cues as to how to make that happen. And what’s really great about M.A.C is, in their statement of the company and such, really very much about that. It’s about making that available in an unabashed way and an affirmative way. To me, the way this project and projects that are similar to it fall outside of pure paintertainment, as I say, is that it literally takes responsibility for not only the alluded to intended purpose but also the fantastic intended purpose, which literally is the living fantasy of how you imagine yourself in a situation. It doesn’t ignore that. I think M.A.C in their program, so much of what they do, is really about that , so I felt there was a real consistency there.  

LM: It’s still very relevant.  

RP: And they’re supportive. Their ‘makeup as art,’ there’s no contradiction there. That’s very important, that it’s very much aligned with the potential I’m speaking about.  

LM: In using the 1970’s and even 1990’s media that you’ve used, you pull out a lot of the objectivity yet humanity that’s still present in these media. Do you feel like that, in terms of the way you portray women, that ‘power female’ that was more present in these 1970’s/1990’s images is still resonant right now as a symbol?

RP: This is actually literally taking an image that could have been a representation of a very weighted or skewed situation in terms of power and literally empowers it by remaking or repurposing the image into a point of identification for how to become that fantastic person, imagining themselves in that type of positive projection. I really feel that that’s a message within the campaign. In a way, the image of the model is a vehicle which you apply, like the M.A.C makeup artists do, this transformation process to the fantastic. I think that in the images you saw from the 70’s or whatever, it was literally the avant-garde. It was not in Pop really, but it was in the disregarded images of fashion which perceived too much like women’s imagery. So my images, while they seem to be critical or might be exploitative, they’re actually the opposite. They’re in a sense taking the point of radical affirmative imagery and re-presenting them in a media that is traditionally seen as conservative. It actually repurposes the conventions of painting in a critical, positive direction. That’s the real distinction I’d draw in terms of it not just being conservative and reactionary paintertainment. These are things you couldn’t possibly associate with M.A.C in the sense that they were the first with their policies on health and AIDS, charities, Viva Glam and all this, 100% of their profits going to it. Those are very important issues for me in my understanding of M.A.C from early on way before any of this. It’s a very important thing because I feel there’s a lot to be said about $140 billion dollars to AIDS charities.

LM: That’s absolutely something.

RP: They associated their name, their brand name, with AIDS charities from the get-go. It’s really important to me that that’s another aspect, that this is not just lighter paintertainment. It is about beauty and the power of beauty. Those were evident in those earlier images that I used. In this case it’s literally completely changing the relationship within an image to speak about something else, something larger, and that is that projection of desire toward intimate situations.  

LM: Outside of the M.A.C deal, do you find it mildly problematic or nerve-racking that using these images over and over again will neutralize them or is that not even a concern with how you’re reformulating these images?

RP: That actually is completely the opposite, because I feel like in most cases painting has been seen as something that dead people do or as some sort of conservative process that really doesn’t have anything to do with contemporary culture. By the collaborations that I did with M.A.C and Gossip Girl and all that, it really is to position painting and art as that first projection of popular culture. Not the one that’s constantly reflecting on it, but literally making a decisive position towards that first projection. And that is a big difference. It goes beyond conventional notions of Pop which is the imitation of or reflection of industrial production. This is hand in hand with the first vision, a first imaging of a literally new state of the art industrial production.

Lynn Maliszewski

Lynn Maliszewski is a freelance writer and aspiring curator/collector residing in New York City. She can be reached at l.malizoo@gmail.com

PHOTO CREDIT: Benjamin Norman (

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