Aged only 18 when he entered the postgraduate painting course at the Royal College of Art in 1959, Peter Phillips was not only the youngest but one of the most technically gifted of that remarkable class, which included in its number David Hockney, Allen Jones, R. B. Kitaj and Derek Boshier. His Pop paintings of 1961, among the earliest and most ambitious by any British artist, arose naturally from his passions as a teenager and from his intense response to the surface sheen of modern life as experienced through photography, cinema, illustration, graphic design, games and all the desirable products devised by industry and made yet more glamorous through advertising.
By the end of the decade, Phillips was to produce paintings on a billboard scale, deftly manipulating his borrowed imagery with the aid of a tool employed by advertisers and photographic retouchers, the airbrush. The effect of his hands-off surfaces was simultaneously to claim responsibility for his selection of forms and images and to distance himself from the elements he juggled, as if they had floated unbidden into the space of his pictures. Through the many changes in his procedures and favoured formats, this trancelike atmosphere remains in force, endowing his art with a mystery and allure a long way from the prosaic and banal sources from which he begins. The rigorous geometry of his pictures and the apparent objectivity and detachment with which he deploys both his processes and the component parts serve as a highly effective means of disguising the ultimately intuitive, subjective, poetic and even romantic nature of his art. The longer one looks at a Phillips, the more powerfully its strangeness takes its hold on the imagination.
The selection of works here persuasively demonstrates the endlessly vibrant nature of Phillips's work, based so firmly in the modern world (as mediated by found images) but also prone to constant flights of fantasy suggestive of dreamlike states. Declaring his freedom to dart in and out of abstraction and to consider every period of his work, every device and compositional strategy, as a legitimate starting point for new pictures, Phillips remains in his late sixties a star of the mythical Sixties, forever young.